How do I pursue a legal action against a tenant who has seemingly disappeared?

About 2 years ago, we rented our home to a family while my husband was deployed overseas. After 2 months they fell behind on their rent. My husband tried to work with them to get current the entire year. When he returned state-side about 20 months ago, we served them with an eviction and they disappeared. Literally, moved out in the middle of the night. The home was left full of trash and massive damage was done to the structure. We have been unable to attain a forwarding address, they are no longer at their previous places of work and we have had no success in reaching them on all other forms of communication we had. They owe us $10,000 in rent and more than thank in damages to the home. How can we pursue legal action against our previous tenants if we cannot find them to serve them papers?

Asked on October 15, 2019 under Real Estate Law, Texas

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 1 year ago | Contributor

You can't sue someone you can't find, unfortunately. Or rather: assuming the TX court rules are anything like NJ's, there will be some way that, after you make (and demonstrate) diligent efforts to find them and serve them personally, you can "serve" them by "publication": by publishing the summons and complaint a sufficient number of times in certain media (e.g. local or state-wide newspapers), since that is provided as a back-up for when a defendant cannot be located. But even if you can, that won't help you: you'll serve them by "substituted service" (as its usually known), such as publication as per the court rules; they won't answer or appear and you'll get a default judgment--then what? They won't pay and you can't garnish their wages, put a lien on real estate, execute on their money in the bank, etc. unless you can locate them. You'll spend time and money getting a judgment, then never collect a dime. And if you can't find them to collect, why bother suing?

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 1 year ago | Contributor

You can have a process server do a skip trace to locate your former tenants.
If that doesn't succeed, you can have your former tenants served by publication which is running a notice of your lawsuit in the legal notices section of a newspaper. Ask the court clerk how long the notice is required to run in the newspaper for it to be effective service by publication. Service by publication is effective even if your former tenants never see the notice in the newspaper.


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