Property Rental 101: How to Handle Property Damage Caused by a Tenant

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11 Jan 2022
5 min read
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Screening tenants can be a full-time job in and of itself, and no matter how thorough the process may be, a bad egg is bound to leak through and complicate the tenant-landlord relationship. For those who own rental properties, managing the properties and ensuring tenants are sticking to their leases are two of the most important aspects of the landlord role, but what should you do if a tenant not only abides by the lease, but damages property?

Whether the damage is accidental or intentional, there are steps you can take – and rights that you have! – to handle or deescalate a situation.

Know the law

With very few exceptions, a tenant is almost always responsible for any damage made to the rental property. While ensuring the fulfillment of that responsibility is where things can get complicated, here are some of the things you can do to address damaged property:

Document everything: Create a paper trail – including clear photos – to track what’s damaged and how it happened, its value, and any other pertinent information. The more thorough your documentation process, the easier it will be to provide justification that it’s the tenants responsibility to cover the damage costs. Documenting the damage also means keeping track of all attempts made to inform the tenant of their responsibilities.

Talking and negotiating: If your tenant has a history of good behavior or the damage is accidental, you could just as well consider talking to the tenant and negotiating a deal. Whether it’s a payment plan or the tenant offering to pay in full, avoid unnecessarily escalating the situation whenever possible.

Deduct from the security deposit: In the event that you and your tenant can’t come to an agreement or they can’t afford to pay for the damage upfront, this is where the security deposit will come in handy. If the security deposit isn’t enough to cover the total damage costs, you’ll either have to come up with an additional solution or eat the remaining cost yourself.

File a lawsuit*: This is a far more drastic approach but might be an appropriate avenue to take if the damage is intentional, the tenant refuses to pay, or if the damage costs are exorbitant. If the damage is smaller scale, it might not be worth the costs and effort to take it to court.

If your tenant is escalating their actions or acting aggressively

Call the police: An obvious option worth noting, if a tenant is posing a serious threat to the property, is being belligerent or threatens to be belligerent, you are well within your rights to call the police before the situation further escalates. Which leads to our next point:

File for eviction: Tenants may be evicted for various reasons, ranging from being unable to meet financial responsibilities to intentionally damaging property as a form of retaliation. This is when strong documentation is critical for justifying your decision to evict.

If your tenant has left or is non-responsive after destroying property, you can either take legal action by hiring a lawyer to investigate and track down the tenant, or you can file an insurance claim to cover the damages – the latter being a far more common route for landlords to take.

Owning a rental property goes beyond simply filling units, and while even the best tenant can cause accidental damage, it’s important that you know your rights as a landlord, being ready to handle any situation that comes your way. And with the rental market being as strong as it is, it's also important to have a good financing partner in place to refinance or invest in new properties - contact Temple View today.

*This content does not constitute legal advice. Temple View Capital strongly encourages individuals to consult legal representation for professional advice on their specific situation.