Over the past year, Dan Ross has seen the number of residents using credit cards for rent payment jump from 5 percent to 20 percent across his firm's urban infill apartment properties in Indiana and Ohio. Ross, director of operations at Cleveland-based Landmark Management, thought the trend reflected the impact of the recession on apartment renters?until he realized that the uptick also coincided with Landmark's move to an electronic payment system.

"With the economy, people have been slower to pay, so we are watching out rent rolls very carefully, and when we examined the increase, we quickly concluded that what we were dealing with was a convenience factor," Ross says.

That's great news for, say, rental payment companies who are getting an increasing number of calls from property management firms and owner/operators seeking to maximize rental revenue through tighter collection efforts. ""Want to immediately improve rental collections? Offer flexibility," says Jason Gardner, co-founder and vice president of Oakland, Calif.-based e-payment provider PropertyBridge, which allows rent payments via cash, credit and debit cards, automated clearing house (ACH), and check scanning.

While the amount of national rental delinquencies resulting from the recession is difficult to quantify, collections agencies have seen their multifamily case file volume jump by approximately 20 percent. "The number of files that we are getting has increased dramatically," says Dan Page, vice president of business development for Los Angeles-based rent collection agency BestRentCollection.com. "Additionally, the percentage that is being collected has gone down, and we are very good at what we do. People are really struggling, losing jobs, and having financial troubles."

Moving to e-payment systems helps on both the front and back end of rent collection efforts. In addition to providing flexibility and "have it my way" customer service to the resident, check scanning, credit card, and ACH transactions are a great way to both secure immediate cash in the bank as well as offer debt collectors a hot lead on residents who go delinquent.

"If you don't scan, photocopy your rent checks every month," Page advises. "Have three references and three emergency contacts and a valid social security number on all lease documents and verify them."

When it comes to on-site collections, Ross supports the tried-and-true strategy of proactive communication. "We're literally trying to talk to our residents on a weekly, if not daily, basis," he says.

Not only does such face time keep rent payments current and top of mind for property manager and residents alike, but it can also be a valuable tactic for securing rent money from a resident who might be letting things slide. "It's a lot harder for someone to say no to their rent payment to your face than it is in an email," Ross says.