What do you do if a tenant destroys your property? This is a common question, especially from first-time landlords. Everyone has the worst case scenario in their minds. Your course of action will depend on the severity of the damage and whether the tenant still lives in your property.
Handling Damage While a Tenant is in Place
If your tenant still lives in the property, you have some leverage. You should be doing routine inspections every year, and in the course of an inspection, you may see that a pet has destroyed a carpet. Tell the tenants that per the lease agreement, they need to pay for any damage above normal wear and tear. In our leases, we have a Tenant Liability clause. It basically says the tenant shall be charged for all repairs or replacements caused by tenants, pets, guests, or licensees of the tenant excluding ordinary wear and tear. Most leases should have something to that effect. Get a bid, and let them know how much it costs. You can ask for them to pay upfront or put the money in a reserve so you can wait and replace that carpet when the tenant moves out. If you ever need to use a security deposit during the tenancy, your lease should have a clause saying that the tenant must reimburse the security deposit.
Handling Damage After Move-Out
If you go to the property after the tenant moved out and there is a ton of damage, use the security deposit first to cover any damage and cleaning. Then, you want to send an itemized report with photos, and ask for the balance that’s due. If they don’t pay, contact their renter’s insurance and see if the policy covers some of the damage. I have had cases where tenants damaged wood flooring and it was covered by insurance. It won’t always happen that way, but that is where you should go next.
You can also contact your own insurance. If it’s bad enough and your deductible is low enough, file a claim. If the damage is seen as accidental, it might be covered. If it seems the tenant was negligent, it probably won’t be covered.
Collecting from the Tenant
If you exhaust all those options, try to settle with your tenant. Try to get something from them, even if it’s not the full balance due. If you can’t get anything, you can go to small claims court. In California, you can sue for up to $10,000. Bring your evidence and your lease, and hopefully you can win your case in court. Even if you do get a judgment, it can still be hard to collect. Hire an attorney to go after the tenant for the money. You can also hire a collection agency.
This is some insight on options you have when there is tenant damage. If you have any questions about property management in San Diego, please let us know. Contact us at Good Life Property Management, and we’ll tell you more.