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Tenant Has Caused Damage To the Rental Property — What Are My Rights?

From broken windows to socks down the toilet and holes in walls, tenants can cause considerable property damage. Even though it often seems like landlord-tenant laws are stacked in favor of the tenants, as a property owner, you have rights too!

Depending on the nature of the damage, a landlord can request the tenant to take responsibility and fix/replace it, hold on to their security deposit, or sue the tenant. Read on and understand more about your property rights as a landlord. But first, let’s take a quick look at common types of damage and who should be held responsible.

Types of property damage and a responsible party

Property damage can happen due to accidents, irresponsible handling, natural calamities, or wear and tear. Fixing and replacing damaged elements could come up to thousands of dollars, depending on the issue. Therefore, it is crucial to know who takes responsibility: whether it’s the tenant or landlord. Here are just some common types of damages that can occur in your rental:

  • Cracks and fractures of the elements such as windows, furniture, and fixtures. This could happen due to an accident, negligence, or malicious behavior by tenants or their guests. In such a case, the tenant is responsible for fixing it.
  • Stains or discoloration of certain items beyond normal wear and tear. Areas like walls, carpets, furniture, and appliances are vulnerable. The responsibility falls on the tenant’s side if the issue is due to malice, negligence, or accidents caused by themselves or their guests. 
  • The tenant is responsible for pet damage like scratches, stains, or breaks.
  • Damage to equipment and appliances due to malice, negligence, or wrong usage, is also the tenant’s responsibility. 
  • On the other hand, property damage could be due to wear and tear, extreme weather, acts of crime, vandalism, and nature (for example, pest infestation). The responsibility, in this case, falls on the landlord. 

Landlord rights when a tenant causes damage

From broken windows to defaced surfaces, holes in walls, mangled fixtures, and broken appliances, tenants can cause considerable damage to rented property. As a landlord, you may feel helpless because tenants are often quick to sue the landlord in small claims. But in reality, if you know your rights and responsibilities, you shouldn’t be hesitant to defend your interests. The following are options you can explore:

Request the tenant to fix the damage in full

As a landlord, the ideal course of action you expect from a self-respecting tenant is to report any damage on the property — be it accidental, due to negligence, or otherwise. 

Assess the damage, take photos, and obtain a quote from a suitable specialist. Then, write to the tenant and request them to bear the cost of fixing it if they have caused the issue. If the tenant does not report the damage but instead waits for you to discover it and take action, you should cite this as a violation of lease terms. You can use it as grounds for further action. 

Hold on to the tenant’s security deposit

Holding on to the security deposit is a painful move. But in some instances, it is necessary. Disputes involving refunding security deposits are by far the most common landlord-tenant disagreements. Tenants often accuse landlords of unfair withholding or incorrect application of a part or entire security deposit. But are landlords always the bad guys? 

No, they are not. There are many instances where tenants falsely or ignorantly accuse landlords. 

fixing issues in your property

As a landlord, you have the right to apply the security deposit money to fix damages to the property. But such damages must be the tenant’s fault, and you should have evidence to show you requested the tenant to fix the problem. Otherwise, tenants could accuse you of various other violations. So it is crucial to stay on top of your obligations and avoid common tenant lawsuits

Some tenants could cause significant damage, which could exceed the value of the security deposit. In such cases, the landlord can sue the tenant for compensation for additional damages.

Sue the tenant

Suing your tenant is usually a last resort because, at this point, you probably stopped considering them as tenants anymore. They have moved out, and you have exhausted the entire security deposit. But the damage is not fixed 100% yet. You are probably facing a significant loss, and legal action is the only way to get back some cash.

In such a case, you can sue the tenant. If the amount is within the legal limit, consider taking the matter to a small claims court. For example, you can file claims of up to $10,000 in California small claims courts.

The process is not as tedious nor as expensive as a normal lawsuit. But it could be effective in helping you recover lost cash and restore your property. 

Request the tenant to vacate the property

Always ensure that the lease has an exit clause for both parties. This option is often applicable where the tenant’s attitude and behavior make you think twice about prolonging the lease agreement. 

But be careful not to be seen to be discriminatory or unfair

Assess the property and your relationship with the tenant. Then, seek legal help on the way forward and draft a notice to vacate. But be prepared to refund in full the security deposit and perhaps make some extra payments. 

It could seem expensive to take this option. But it could be necessary and helpful in avoiding worse disputes and losses in the future. 

Landlord rights, a final word

The above actions are only applicable where there exists a valid lease agreement. But you can avoid a significant amount of disputes by applying a robust tenant screening process for potential renters. Once signed up, you can go the extra mile to educate them on the use of the facility and the rights and obligations of each party. Also, invest in maintaining an active relationship with them. The payback is worthwhile.  

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