What do you do if a Tenant Destroys Your Property?
If you’re a landlord renting properties out to tenants, one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself is to include a Tenant Liability clause in the lease agreement. This clause should state that the tenant will be charged for any replacements or repairs which are necessary, and which are caused by the tenants, their pets, or their guests.
This of course, excludes ordinary wear and tear such as might normally happen with carpets, paint jobs, and even large appliances after a number of years. If you don’t have this kind of protection written into your lease agreements with tenants, you’re probably going to have a difficult time getting them to pay for any damages which they’ve caused. Below is some information on what your options are in situations where the tenant still resides on your property, as well as after they’ve moved out.
When the tenant is still there
You should be doing annual inspections of the property, so you’ll notice any unusual damage which has occurred above and beyond normal wear. For instance, you may discover that their dog has made a hole in the rug, or has been chewing on furniture or part of the apartment structure. In situations like this, you’re perfectly within your right to get a quote for some kind of replacement, and then let the tenant know they will be responsible for that amount of money.
Your first recourse for covering the cost of any damages might be to use up the security deposit originally supplied by the tenant. If the cost of any damages exceeds that amount, the best case scenario is to reach an agreement with the tenant whereby they can make installment payments until the entire balance is paid off.
If the tenant refuses to acknowledge liability in the case, you may have to take the matter to a Small Claims Court and sue the tenant for the amount of the repairs or replacements. Be advised that in these small claims cases, the court tends to favor the tenant most of the time, so even if you win the case, you’re likely to get less than the amount you are owed.
When the tenant has moved out
If you discover damage to the property after the tenant has moved out, and this is occurred since the time of your last inspection, you will still have the option of using the security deposit to cover the expenses. In most states, you’ll be allowed to use the security deposit to repair any damage beyond normal wear and tear, or the replacement of appliances or furnishings which were previously serviceable.
When you’re talking about normal wear and tear, it is assumed that such things as scratches on the walls from furniture occur normally, as do nail holes for picture-hanging, the aging process for paint or flooring, and any damage which occurs as a result of exposure to moisture. You will be obliged to repair these at your own expense, but you will certainly not be expected to pay for the damage caused by a hole in the wall made by your tenant’s children.
If the cost of any necessary repairs exceeds the amount of the security deposit, you can reach out to the former tenant and ask them to pay for the damages. If they decline, you’ll still have the option of taking them to Small Claims Court and settling the issue there. Just be sure that you’re on solid ground with the definition of any damage being ‘above and beyond normal wear and tear’, and your chances of winning the case will increase.