tenant destroyed rental property

Discover essential strategies for landlords facing tenant property damage. From legal rights to actionable steps, learn how to navigate this challenging situation and secure your investment against deliberate or accidental harm.

Key Takeaways

  • Immediate Action is Crucial: Quickly document and assess property damage to determine the next steps.
  • Legal Rights Protected: Landlords have clear legal avenues to seek compensation for tenant-caused damage.
  • Communication is Key: Engaging in tenant dialogue can sometimes resolve issues without further legal action.
  • Security Deposits: Use as a first line of financial recourse for repairs.
  • Legal and Police Involvement: Necessary in cases of severe damage or when a tenant refuses to cover costs.
  • Insurance Coverage: Check your policy for damage claims to mitigate financial losses.
  • Tenant Responsibilities: Tenants may face legal consequences for intentional property damage, including potential eviction.

This may be every landlord’s worst nightmare! An angry tenant decides to cause damage to your property on purpose. This could be due to a conflict they’re having with you over rent, repairs, or possibly eviction. Their destructive behavior might be motivated by personal issues, but you and your property suffer the consequences.

Whatever the cause, it leaves you with hundreds or thousands of dollars of damage to your property and potentially a tenant occupying the property who may be inclined to cause further damage.

How can you regain control of your property, prevent further damage, and ensure the liable party pays for the damage they’ve caused? Read on for our landlord’s guide on handling angry tenants who destroy your property.

Table Of Contents: What To Do When Your Tenant Destroys Your Property

How you deal with a tenant who damages property depends on the situation. Jump to your current problem using the links below.

Property Damage: Landlord And Tenant Rights

Property Damage: Landlord And Tenant Rights

If a rental property is damaged, tenants must understand the potential repercussions. What happens if you damage a rental property? Should damage occur, whether intentional or accidental, tenants are expected to report it to the landlord immediately. The consequences might include deductions from the security deposit to cover repairs, additional charges if the damage exceeds the deposit amount, or, in severe cases, legal action that could lead to criminal charges. Tenants are liable for the cost of repairs not covered by normal wear and tear, underscoring the importance of maintaining the property’s condition.

The law recognizes that tenants are liable for damages they cause to a rental property and should pay for those damages, regardless of whether they were accidental or deliberate. This kind of damage includes deliberate destruction, unintentional breakages, and damage that results from negligence. For example, a tenant not cleaning the bathroom for the duration of their lease and allowing mold to eat into the walls would be considered negligence.

Landlords are responsible for the wear and tear cost of reasonable day-to-day use. This would include faded paint, carpets wearing thin in high-traffic areas, or appliances reaching the end of their lifespan. These conditions should be laid out in the lease agreement.

When dealing with good tenants with accidental damage, it’s usually easy to negotiate with them to pay for repairs they may have reported to you. However, resolving the issue becomes much more complicated if the tenant is contesting the cause of the damage or caused deliberate damage.

An important factor in resolving these damage disputes is to prove what damage occurred and when. For this reason, you should take detailed photos of your property before a new tenant moves in and keep them on record.

You can also have the new tenant attest in writing that the photos reflect the property’s condition when they moved in. These photos can be used as evidence when negotiating with tenants or pursuing a legal case over any damages.

What To Do When A Tenant Damages Rental Property

How do you know that your property has been damaged? Did you identify damage on a routine inspection? Did neighbors or other tenants alert you to suspicious sounds or behavior that could suggest property damage? Did the tenant threaten to damage your property in response to a disagreement?

You should document how you learned about the property damage. But the big question is what to do next. The ICE method represents an excellent initial approach.

Get Your Emotions In Check

One of the first things you should do when dealing with property damage is to get your emotions in check. If your tenant is intentionally destroying your property, their emotions have already gotten the better of them. The situation will likely escalate if you allow yours to do the same.

If, in an emotionally charged state, you turn up at the property unannounced, argue with the tenant, and try to evict them unlawfully, you could find yourself in legal trouble even though they are the ones who have been destroying your property.

Before you do anything, check your emotional state and how it might influence your decision-making. Also, consider anything that’s happened with the tenant previously that may have contributed to the current situation or made dealing with its aftermath challenging. If you know what you’re up against, you can better prepare for the challenge.

Share Your Frustrations

If you want to share thoughts and frustrations with other tenants, join our private Facebook community of landlords and ask questions about your situation.

For instance, here is one thread from the community:

We keep the discussion in the group about managing rentals and no promotion of any sort.

Just keep the questions in the group constructive and not just a place to bash tenants.

Get Your Emotions In Check

Identify And Document The Damage

Next, you need to accurately identify what has happened and determine with certainty whether the tenant has damaged the property. Make sure you aren’t dealing with a case of a young tenant playing Grand Theft Auto with the volume on high and concerned neighbors mistaking this for property damage.

Identify whether damage has been caused, when, by whom, and how. Are you dealing with a party that has gotten out of control, a conflict between tenants living in the property, or an angry tenant who is intentionally destroying your property?

If you’re dealing with an angry tenant who is actively destroying property or poses a risk that they will continue destroying property, you should call the police. This can be the best way to limit the extent of the property damage.

You can check the damage yourself if it’s a less urgent situation. You must give the tenant 24 hours’ notice for an inspection. You should post the notice on their door and call them to ensure they know about the scheduled visit.

During the visit, you need to document the damage by taking pictures and videos of everything for comparison with your existing property photos. These will be essential for future court cases, so you must ensure that all images are time and date-stamped.

But remember to be careful when dealing with an angry or volatile tenant. If you feel they may get hostile or your safety is at risk, it’s best to work with the authorities to resolve the situation.

When engaging with the tenant, be sure to retain calm, non-hostile body language and choose your words carefully so as not to inflame the situation. Document all of your interactions as much as possible.

Quantify The Damage

In addition to identifying the damage, you’ll want to quantify its value to seek damages from the tenant. Consider inviting experts to estimate how much it will cost to restore the unit to its original condition. Keep copies of the bids and subsequent invoices for your court case.

To minimize your financial cost, you should proceed quickly to get the rental property ready to lease again.

What Do I Do When A Tenant Damages The Rental Property?

Dealing with property damage can be a stressful experience for landlords. If a tenant damages your property, your initial steps are crucial for resolution. Start by calmly assessing and documenting the extent of the damage. This documentation serves as a critical piece of evidence, whether you’re seeking compensation through the security deposit or legal action. Following this, engage in a dialogue with your tenant about the damage, aiming to resolve the situation amicably. However, should the tenant refuse to cover the costs or if the damage is significant, you may need to consider further legal steps, including eviction for breach of lease terms.

In episode #30 of our podcast, we discuss a few ways you can deal with this unfortunate situation. The topics include “Cash For Keys” and how to use the SODA form for documenting the damages.

You can download a SODA form template from the show notes of episode #30 about what to do when a tenant damages your rental.

Pursuing Damages: Law Enforcement And The Courts

Once you know the cost of damages, you can pursue the liable tenant to pay for them. There are a variety of avenues that you may have to take.

Request Financial Compensation For Damages

Not every situation in which a tenant causes damage to your property will necessarily be discovered when a tenant is moving out. And not all damages lead to eviction. The property damage may have been accidental, or it may have been caused in a heated moment that has now passed. Therefore, you may be happy for the tenant to stay on despite the damage.

In this case, you must request financial compensation from the tenant for the damages. While you may discuss this with them in person, the official request should be made in writing.

In addition to providing details of the property and the parties involved, you should give detailed descriptions of the damage. State where the damage is, the scope and nature of the damage, and when it was discovered. You should also provide a detailed breakdown of the cost of repairs and a formal request for the funds, including when and how it should be paid. You could ask the tenant to pay you or pay the contractor directly.

In your letter, you should also highlight the part of the rental agreement confirming that tenants are responsible for this damage. If you have photographic evidence, you can append this.

Some tenants may pay what they feel they owe for the damage, while others may wish to negotiate on cost. How to deal with these reasonable tenants depends on the situation.

Seek Eviction

If an unreasonable tenant is not already ending their tenancy agreement or is refusing to leave the property, you will need to seek eviction. You’ll want to follow the proper eviction steps, including serving an appropriate eviction notice. If a tenant severely damages a rental property, they violate the lease and may be evicted for this infraction.

Please read our complete landlord guide on how to evict a tenant here.

Deduct From The Security Deposit

Deduct From The Security Deposit

Security deposits are in place specifically to cover expenses such as property damage. So, as a landlord, you are within your rights to deduct reasonable charges for property damage from the tenant’s security deposit. You must send the tenant an itemized list of repairs with the costs deducted from the deposit within a set number of days.

The form you fill out is called a SODA or Security Deposit Disposition form.

It’s essential to fill out this form and get it to the tenant within state guidelines. Some states (such as Washington) require this to happen within 14 days of the end of the lease or eviction.

However, the security deposit will likely not cover the total cost of the damages, and you will need to pursue the remainder via other means.

Call Your Local Police

Always contact your local law enforcement to report the damage and destruction. This helps you with official paperwork to document the event.

If the damage is significant enough and numerous valuable items were stolen, the police may consider it a criminal case and file charges. If there are additional illegal elements that are tied up with the damage, such as making meth in the unit, the police are more likely to take action.

But, even with no criminal charges, the report will help confirm your side of the story in later court proceedings.

Seek Restitution Via Civil Court

You can file a lawsuit against the tenant, seeking compensation for the cost of repairs. It’s best to get an attorney for this action and realize that working through the courts can take a while. If the former tenants had trouble paying rent in the first place, you likely will only recover a little in the long run.

Contact Your Insurance Company

Your final action is to contact your insurance company if the damage is extensive enough. You may be covered under certain conditions for some or all of the cost to repair damages.

Your insurance company will also want to see a police report, so make sure you have copies to send. Your insurance agent should be able to work with you on exactly what else you need to do.

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Landlord Nightmares In The News

While every landlord hopes the angry tenant scene never plays out in their rental property, unfortunately, there are incidents where tenants seek revenge.

Here are just a few stories that reflect this all-too-common action:

Evicted Tenants Seek Revenge, Destroy Property Says Landlord

When a landlord served tenants eviction papers for nonpayment of rent, the tenants trashed the property. Read the full story here.

Tenant Sledgehammers Apartment Over $2,500 Deposit Beef

In France, a tenant seeking revenge on a landlord who did not refund his deposit takes a sledgehammer to the apartment, videotapes the act, and then posts it on YouTube. Read the full story here.

Landlord On Hook After Tenant Trashes Unit

A teenage tenant, approved by a social services agency, destroys a rental property, and the landlord faces an uphill battle in getting compensation for damages. Read the full story here.

FAQs – What To Do If A Tenant Damages Property

Below are answers to some of the most frequent questions that landlords have when dealing with tenants who choose to damage rental properties.

How do I write a letter to a tenant for damages?

Tenant damage does not always have to result in acrimonious eviction. In some cases, the landlord may be able to ask the tenant to cover the cost of the damages they’ve caused.

A letter asking for funds to cover damages should describe the damages and when and how they were detected in detail. If possible, append photos showing the damage compared to how the property looked when the tenant moved in. Highlight the section of the lease that stipulates that the tenant is responsible for these kinds of damages.

You should also provide an itemized repair bill and a reasonable deadline for the tenant to pay what they owe.

Can a landlord charge more than the security deposit for damage?

Your rental lease should state that the tenant is liable for damage they have caused to the property beyond expected wear and tear. This means that the landlord is within their rights to request funds above and beyond the security deposit paid by a vacating tenant if the security deposit does not cover the full cost of the repairs.

In the first instance, you should formally request the additional funds from the tenant. If they refuse to pay or argue they are not liable for the extra funds, the landlord must pursue the matter in civil court.

Civil court cases can be lengthy and expensive. This is why security deposits are in place: to protect the landlord from at least some of the damages that may have been incurred.

Can landlords charge tenants for repairs if they do it themselves?

Landlords can charge tenants for repairs if they do it themselves. However, they should detail the cost, including parts and materials, and their time charged at the “usual and customary rate” for their labor.

Can a tenant go to jail for damaging rental property?

A tenant can have criminal charges brought against them and go to jail if they deliberately damage a rental property. The police or landlord will need to show that there was malicious intent. The tenant will most likely be charged with a misdemeanor offense, such as vandalism. The penalty usually includes a fine and a short jail period of less than a year.

If the cost of the property destroyed through vandalism is high, the tenant could receive a more severe felony charge. This can result in much more significant fines and longer prison terms. The details vary by state.

Can a Landlord Take Legal Action if a Tenant Damages Property?

Yes, landlords can take legal action if a tenant damages property. This can include deducting repair costs from the security deposit, seeking compensation through civil court, or, in severe cases, initiating eviction proceedings. Landlords must document the damage thoroughly and follow legal procedures to ensure a fair resolution.

Landlord Rights When A Tenant Destroys Property

A landlord has rights when tenants destroy their property, and this usually comes in the form of financial repayment. The first step is to document the damage and notify the tenant.

If the tenant is evicted or abandons the property, the landlord can deduct money from the security deposit. If the damages exceed the funds in the security deposit, the landlord can sue the tenant in small claims court.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to avoid situations like this when an angry tenant is set on causing destruction. One option that is increasing in popularity is “cash for keys,” or when a landlord offers money to the tenants to leave the property right away. This practice may entice struggling tenants to exit without damages for quick cash.

What’s the worst tenant revenge you’ve ever witnessed or heard about? Please share this article and let us know your experiences in the comments below.