No matter how carefully you screen your tenants, there’s always the chance that one of them will end up damaging your property. This is a serious problem since property damage can range from something simple (like a hole in the wall) to something devastating, which could compromise the entire profitability of your investment. Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take as a landlord to mitigate any further damage, cover the expenses to repair the damage, and resolve the situation as peacefully and pain-free as possible.
Know the Law
Damage can occur on your property in a number of different ways, and different states and regions have different laws regarding who is responsible for what. In the vast majority of areas, the tenant is responsible for any damage the tenant caused, directly or indirectly, either intentionally or through negligence. Anything that happens to your property that wasn’t naturally caused and wasn’t a result of the home’s natural deterioration is oftentimes squarely your tenant’s financial responsibility. However, ensuring the fulfillment of that responsibility is where things often get complicated.
What to Do
If your tenant is still living at the property:
- Document everything. Your first and most important task throughout this entire process is to document everything as thoroughly as you can. This will provide evidence and justification for any actions you take, and may be necessary if things escalate to the point where the courts need to get involved. Take high-resolution photos of anything and everything the tenant has damaged; hopefully, you have some “before” photos from before the tenant moved in. You’ll also want to document any and all attempts you make to inform the tenant of their responsibilities, which you’ll see unfold in the next several steps. Finally, you’ll want to document quotes from various contractors who bid to make the necessary repairs; this will justify the costs you request of your tenant.
- Talk to the tenant and negotiate. If the damage appears to have been accidental, or if your tenant has a history of good behavior, consider simply talking to your tenant and negotiating a deal. You may find that the tenant is more than willing to accept responsibility for their actions or neglect, and the problem can be solved easily. The tenant may have a preferred contact who can take care of the repairs, or may have an alternative plan to make things right. You may also be able to work out some kind of payment plan if the tenant is unable to pay you in full for the damages. In any case, this is a good first step to take—there’s no reason to escalate things unless necessary. However, you’ll still want to document your agreed-upon plan.
- Deduct from the security deposit. Hopefully, you were able to obtain a security deposit before your tenant moved in—this is exactly the type of situation it was designed to mitigate. If you and your tenant can’t come to an agreement, or if the tenant can’t afford to pay for repairs, you should be within your rights to deduct the cost of repairs from the tenant’s security deposit. If it still isn’t enough to cover the full cost of repairs, you’ll have to eat the remaining cost or move onto other options.
- Consider filing a civil suit. If the tenant can’t or won’t pay for the repairs, you may consider filing a civil lawsuit, especially if the cost of repairs is exorbitant. However, if the cost is only a few hundred dollars, it may not be worth your time or monetary investment to pursue legal recourse. Use your best judgment here—sometimes it’s better to simply eat the cost of the repair.
If your tenant is becoming aggressive or escalating their actions:
- File for eviction. Problem tenants who are consistently unable to meet their financial responsibilities and are posing a serious threat to the property are strong candidates for eviction. Eviction is oftentimes a complicated and slow process, so make sure this is the best option before proceeding. Also be aware that informing a violent or spiteful tenant that you are evicting them could result in further damage to the property. Be sure to handle the situation as calmly and respectably as possible.
- Call the police. If your efforts aren’t enough to prevent the tenant from taking hostile action, consider calling the police. With proper documentation, they may be able to intervene during a violent episode or arrest the tenant entirely.
- Consider a “cash for keys” option. If you want to cut your losses and avoid any further damage by a problematic tenant, one of your best options is a “cash for keys” offer. Here, you’ll offer your tenant a sum of money—such as a few hundred dollars—to leave peacefully without the need to escalate the situation further. It’s not the ideal scenario, but it could prevent more damage to your property.
If your tenant has left or is non-responsive:
- Take legal action. If your tenant vanishes after destroying part of your property or is unwilling to communicate, you may need to take further legal action. Depending on the extent of the damage, you may hire an attorney or an investigator to track your tenant down—though this is a rare and extreme situation.
- File an insurance claim. In most cases, it’s better to make a claim on your insurance. Your insurance policy should cover damage caused by your tenant (whether intentionally or inadvertently). If you don’t want to make a claim, you’ll have to pay out of pocket to get your property back to livable condition.
The best way to deal with tenants damaging your property is to let someone else deal with it—or prevent it altogether! Green Residential can help you in both areas, taking care of tenant problems on your behalf, and screening tenants thoroughly in the first place, so you’re at much lower risk of experiencing damage. Contact us to learn more today!