The best-case scenario when renting a property is that you find quiet, respectful, and attentive tenants who always pay their rent on time and leave your property just the way they found it. It’s rare to establish a relationship this smooth, however. Most of the time, you’ll have to deal with a variety of challenges and hiccups like late rent payments and tenant complaints.
Still, the majority of issues you’ll deal with as a landlord are small and temporary nuisances. In more isolated and extreme cases, you may find your property physically damaged by your tenants.
How can you handle this situation?
Types of Damage
First, you should understand that not all types of tenant-related damage are the same, nor should they be treated the same. You’ll need to adjust your approach based on whether the damage is qualified as:
- Accidental damage. If someone trips, falls, and makes a hole in the drywall, that’s different than someone punching holes in the drywall to spite you. Even if the damage is the same, the intentions are drastically different.
- Intentional or neglectful damage. Sometimes, your tenant will act in a malicious or neglectful way, resulting in damage. They might be angry with you or oblivious to their responsibilities; either way, they should be held liable for the damage they directly caused.
- Environmental damage. Not all property damage is directly attributable to your tenant. For example, if you recently encountered a storm or similar natural disaster, it could have been responsible for the damage.
- Wear and tear damage. Properties sustain damage over time naturally. You can’t blame your tenant for breaking the refrigerator if it was already past its prime.
- Ambiguous damage. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what type of damage was done – and the damage may be the result of many different factors. In these cases, it can be difficult to decide the appropriate course of action.
When handling property damage from a tenant, there are several important fundamentals to keep in mind:
- Remain patient and polite. Being aggressive with a tenant, blaming them directly for the damage, or resorting to legal threats immediately are going to be counterproductive. If you’re rude or disrespectful, your tenant may be less willing to comply with your requests or may intentionally obstruct you in your pursuit for compensation. In a worst-case scenario, they may use your rudeness as an excuse to do even more damage.
- Make decisions logically. It’s easy to let your emotions take over, especially if you have an emotional connection to your property. If you feel like your tenant is harassing you or trying purposely to irritate you, you may feel motivated to take retaliatory action. However, it’s important to take a step back and make your decisions as rationally as possible. You’ll make better, more logical decisions – and you’ll be less stressed in the process.
- Document everything. Ideally, you’ll work out the situation without having to file a lawsuit or file for eviction. But if you do take legal action, you’ll want as much documentation as possible to prove your case. Document everything you can from the moment you notice the damage. That means taking photos and videos of the damage itself as well as preserving text messages and recorded phone calls with your tenant. The more thorough you are, the better.
- Escalate only as necessary. In response to the damage, you may feel the urge to evict the tenant or penalize them in some way – especially if this isn’t the first issue you’ve had with this tenant. However, it’s important to escalate the situation only as necessary. The quicker and smoother you can resolve the issue, the better – and taking legal action may only make things more difficult for you.
With those concepts in mind, there are a few steps you’ll need to take as you navigate this issue.
Step One: Discussion
There are a few different ways you could discover the damage. The tenant might have informed you directly, or you might have seen the damage yourself while attending the property. Either way, the first step is going to be discussing the damage.
Try to remain as open-minded and calm as possible. Confront your tenant about the damage without being accusatory or aggressive and ask them for an explanation. There may be more to the story than you realize.
Step Two: Investigation
After talking to your tenant, it’s a good idea to do some further investigating. Make sure you document the damage as thoroughly as possible and collect other forms of evidence; for example, your tenant may have video of the incident unfolding. With the evidence in hand, you may be able to confirm or disprove your tenant’s story. This is also a good opportunity to get multiple quotes from contractors who can repair the damage.
In any case, documentation is vital at this step; leave no stone unturned.
Step Three: Negotiation
When you have a firmer understanding of the situation, you can enter a negotiation with the tenant. If they’re responsible for the damage, you can ask them to pay for a contractor to repair the damage or ask them to repair it themselves. You may also be able to work out a payment plan if they can’t afford the repairs or charge them a flat fee if they’re only partially responsible for the damage.
Step Four: Escalation
If your tenant refuses to pay or if the damage grows worse, you’ll want to escalate the situation. Depending on the circumstances, that could mean sending reminders to your tenants about the money they owe, issuing formal warnings, or even contacting the police.
Step Five: Legal Action
If your escalation doesn’t spark your tenant to pay you back or make the situation right, it’s in your best interest to talk to a lawyer. You may need to take your tenant to small-claims court, or evict them from the property entirely.
Managing tenants is stressful, and a bit of a hassle, even in the best-case scenario conditions. When you have a destructive or disrespectful tenant, everything becomes much harder. You can reduce, or even eliminate, the majority of this stress – and improve your tenant relationships at the same time – by working with a property management company. To find out what a property management company can do for you (and your properties), reach out to us at Green Residential today for a free consultation!