tenant destroyed rental property

Updated August 2023

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 their own personal issues, but it’s you and your property that are suffering the consequences.

Whatever the cause, you are left 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 take back control of your property, prevent further damage, and ensure that the liable party pays for the damage they’ve caused? Read on for our landlord’s guide to how to handle angry tenants who destroy your property.

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

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

Property Damage: Landlord And Tenant Rights

Property Damage: Landlord And Tenant Rights

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, accidental breakages, and damage that results from negligence. For example, a tenant not cleaning the bathroom for the duration of their lease and therefore allowing mold to eat into the walls would be considered negligence.

Landlords are responsible for the cost of wear and tear that results from reasonable day-to-day use. This would include things such as faded paint, carpet 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 you’re dealing with good tenants where accidental damage has occurred, it’s usually not difficult to negotiate with them to pay for repairs for damage that they themselves may have reported to you. However, if the tenant is contesting the cause of the damage or caused deliberate damage, resolving the issue becomes much more difficult.

An important factor in resolving these damage disputes is to be able to prove what kind of damage has 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 condition of the property when they moved in. These photos can then be used as evidence either 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 some kind of disagreement?

You should document how you learned about the property damage. But the big question is what to do next. The ICE method represents a good initial approach. The method is explained in detail in the video below.

Get Your Emotions In Check

One of the first things you should do when dealing with a property damage situation is to get your own emotions in check. If your tenant is destroying your property on purpose, their emotions have probably already gotten the better of them. If you allow yours to do the same, the situation is only likely to escalate.

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 own 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 make 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…

Get Your Emotions In Check

If you want access to the community just go to https://rentprep.com/group/ in order to get the password to join.

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

Eric will add you to the community as soon as he can.

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

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 destroying your property on purpose?

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.

If it’s a less urgent situation, you can check the damage yourself. You will need to give the tenant 24 hours notice for an inspection. You should post the notice on their door and call them to ensure they are aware of 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 any future court case, so you must ensure that all images are time and date stamped.

Here’s a video we created showing you how you can add a timestamp.

Click here >>> iPhone Timestamp App

Click here >>> Android Timestamp App

But don’t forget to be careful when dealing with an angry or volatile tenant. If you feel like 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 to choose your words carefully so as not to inflame the situation. Document all of your interactions as much as is possible.

Quantify The Damage

In addition to identifying the damage, you’ll want to quantify its value so you can seek damages from the tenant. You should invite experts in to provide estimates on how much it will cost you to restore the unit to its original condition. Keep copies of the bids and subsequent invoices for your court case.

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

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

On 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.

For more information on how to handle a tenant who damages rental property, check out this video:

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 will need to 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 provide 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 that confirms that tenants are responsible for this type of damage. If you have photographic evidence, you may wish to append this.

Some tenants may simply pay what they feel they owe for the damage, while others may wish to negotiate on cost. How to deal with these kinds of reasonable tenants will depend 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 make sure you follow the proper eviction steps, which include serving a proper eviction notice. If a tenant is severely damaging a rental property, they are violating the lease and may be evicted for this infraction.

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 are required to send an itemized list of repairs with the costs deducted from the deposit to the tenant within a set number of days.

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

It’s important 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, it’s likely that the security deposit will not cover the full 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 when there are 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 the process can take a while to work its way through the courts. If the former tenants were having trouble paying rent in the first place, it’s likely you won’t recover much in the long run.

Contact Your Insurance Company

Your final course of 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 own 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 her 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, 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 simply 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 in detail the damages and when and how they were detected. If possible, append photos that show the damage in comparison with photos of how the property looked when the tenant moved in. Highlight the section of the lease that stipulates 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 is owed.

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.

The additional funds should be formally requested from the tenant in the first instance. If they refuse to pay or argue that they are not liable for the additional funds, the landlord will have to 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 for 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 material, 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 is mostly likely to be charged with a misdemeanor offense, such as vandalism. The penalty usually includes a fine and a short period of less than a year in jail.

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

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 serve a notice to the tenant.

If the tenant is evicted or has already abandoned 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 known as “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 in order to get some quick cash.

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


  1. I am living this nightmare every night. I am a single mom that finally was able to buy a home. I purchased a two family house and the tenants upstairs stayed. I figured it would b ok but as soon as I moved I could tell it wouldn’t work out. They are very disrespectful. There is no lease bc they didn’t sign the lease I presented to them. They gave their 30 day notice but every night I hear sawing and banging. I real believe these ppl are under the floors messing up the plumbing. its a horrible feeling listening to them destroy my home… I already called the police…they said its a civil matter. All I can do is wait until the first to see the damages.

    • Tonya, this does sound like a nightmare! I’m sorry to hear that you’re going through it and I hope that it ends better than you fear it may. If it’s not too late, maybe look into a “cash for keys” situation. I can see the peace of mind being worth the extra expense on your part – check some info here https://rentprep.com/blog/cash-for-keys-program-pay-renters-leave/

      Good luck with everything and let us know how it goes.

      • Why the Hell are there no laws to stop this stuff. Why would courts allow this? I got the same problem. I’m so close to being on CNN it’s unreal. Of course this would make me look as bad as them. The Renter gets to do this stuff with no consequences, but I bet I would go to jail or worse. Good Grief!!!! …..Jesse

  2. I have 3 rental units my home also has a barn studio. I allowedy mother and her boyfriend to stay in the studio behind my house in exchange for working on the property and making improvements. Well, instead they trashed the inside by hoarding as much as they could fit, turned the outside into their own personal junk yard, put up servalance cameras and have been recording all of my family’s private conversations, ran over my front gate with a tractor “by mistake” (he we drunk). As my I’m realizing how out of control this is, his dog viciously attacked a puppy on my side of the fense and he then drunkenly attacked the owner of the puppy, my brother in law. Having enough of their non sense, I served them a 30 day notice. My mother then put a restraining order on my fiance and I to attempt to take control over my property full of lies from top to bottom. They are putting up unauthorized fenses around the unit, putting chains on my gates to block our entry way, flipping the electricity off and on to mess with us, and last but not least, slashed my tractor tires that I just bought 2 months ago.. I am going to need a top notch lawyer to bring these vandalizing low lives to justice. I was just trying to help out a family member and I get an unbelievable amout stress. I don’t know what type of perso. You have to be to do this to a child…? But Im glad I don’t understand. I just wish my son didn’t have to witness so much hostility. I just want to have peace in my home, without threats and over grown thugs.. its unbelievable.

    • Azsa, this sounds like a nightmare. I’m sorry to hear what you’re going through, especially seeing that it’s family. The best advice I can give is what you already mentioned – get a “top notch” attorney to represent you. But don’t confuse top notch with best fit. Make sure the attorney you choose is well experienced in handling landlord/tenant law. This should actually keep the costs lower as they are already accustomed to handling your type of cases.

      To help with your search, here is a podcast episode we did on finding an attorney https://rentprep.com/landlordu/ep-023-night-school-tips-finding-landlord-tenant-attorney/

      And here is an article on 9 Tips to Find a Landlord Tenant Attorney 9 Tips to Find a Landlord Tenant Attorney

      Good luck and let me know how things turned out

  3. I have a tenant who worked on my property. He is a general contractor. I rented the property to him and his wife. Within two months he started to complain about the place. He now refuses to pay the rent and took me to court. I have fixed everything they complained about, I don’t know what else to do. I had to retain a lawyer to represent me. Do anyone have a recommendation?

    • Lawrence, I’m sorry to hear that you’re going through this. As landlords our worst fear is to have to deal with an unreasonable tenant, and it sounds like that’s exactly what you have.

      My advice is not going to be accepted by everyone, but your situation sounds like a perfect case for “Cash for Keys”. I’ll include a few links for you to learn more details, but essentially you’re paying the person to leave the unit. In these types of cases, all you can do is either fight with them for the duration of the lease term, or get them out. Getting them out the fastest, cheapest way possible is what you should be looking for.

      Here is a podcast episode we did covering the topic – https://rentprep.com/landlordu/cash-for-keys-paying-bad-tenants-to-vacate-ep-10/
      Here is an article covering the topic – https://rentprep.com/blog/cash-for-keys-program-pay-renters-leave/

      I just noticed that the link in the article for the form is down, so if you want a form feel free to email me directly at steve@rent-prep and I’ll forward one to you.

      Good luck with everything and I hope the situation ends peacefully for you. Keep me posted if you try the Cash for Keys.

  4. I am so upset right now….my husband a general contractor went to my house today to replace a thermostat for the tenants in my home. He came back to tell me that they have melted my siding with a propane heater used to heat an outdoor room they smoke in.

    My husband said a minimum of $1000 to replace if he can even find the same type color. He is going to get me a bid and I am going to contact the police to file a report. On top of this, a year ago they broke the front door because the wind caught it and pulled it from the jam. I took pictures and replaced the screen door mechanism that allows it to open shut properly and have been waiting to get in there and look. I didnt want to replace my brand new door that cost me $2000.

    I bought the home as a single mother and completely remodeled every room into a gorgeous home, then met my husband and moved into his home. My heart breaks that they tore my home up. What should I do? Thanks

  5. i rented the basement. The tenant created a lot of damage.the carpet was damaged, the walls had holes filled with white wash, the bathroom and refrigerator was dirty, the doors were broken from all the banging, the smoke detector was missing ..the place had to be fixed.
    When explained to the tenant, he was very angry and is asking for receipts.to keep cost low, I had most of the work done myself and had some other handyman work done at a low cost .In this case, what is the best way to present the receipts to the tenant ?

    • My first reaction is to get a receipt from the handyman. As a landlord you can charge for your time to make repairs. Just be sure to be fair and itemize the charges.

  6. My landlord is saying i stole their stove and refrigerator. This is not true at all.. When i moved out i was not evicted but moved out because of my job. relocation and now several weeks after i left they text me with our stuff is missing.. I told the apartment manager that i was moving and she said ok. she didn’t do a walk through or anything.. Now they’re trying to press criminal charges on me and i know i didn’t do it.. Help!

    • Yikes Tar! A good lesson for everyone in the importance of documentation, that’s for sure. I guess I would say that first thing you should do is gather up any form of documentation or dates/times of conversations that you can. I am assuming you turned in your keys, were you given any kind of acknowledgment of that event?

  7. I served an eviction notice. Am I allowed to go in and take photos? There is dog crap in every room. People moving in I don’t even know. I receive no rent. I need help.

    • Jesse, you cannot enter the property until you have either provided proper notice, or received the forcible entry detainer from the courts. If the tenants are not cooperating, chances are you’ll not get to enter the property until you have legal permission to do so through the eviction proceedings. Normally people who are getting evicted don’t all the sudden want to play by the rules and let you in the property with just a 24 hour notice to enter.

      • This just better and better. They won’t leave and the court won’t make them. Even with the proper eviction notices. I have a garage on the property that I retained for myself. Court may give rights to the contents. I have thousands of dollars in tools in there. This may cost me my livelihood. I need my tools for work but am not allowed to get to them. I simply can’t believe this.

  8. Good article. This just happened to me, but not to the extent of taking appliances and destroying lights etc. They just trashed everything……..carpet is destroyed, holes in walls, interior doors removed, thermostat and smoke detectors all ripped out, and dog poop everywhere. It stinks so bad in my house, the people who did the walk through almost threw up.

  9. So sorry to hear about this Slingerss 🙁

    Hopefully you’re going above and beyond with your tenant screening process for these next tenants!

  10. I’m actually predicting this event in a property I just purchased. the old landlord was too scared of them due to them giving threats and cursing. We approached them with an eviction notice because they weren’t paying and don’t plan to pay (evidence recorded on camera that they had and have no intent to pay their rent.) Does anyone have any advice on what I should do for the very imminent damages I will be seeing to this place?

  11. Meagan, first off sorry to hear that you’re stuck cleaning up someone else’s mess.

    Have you considered cash for keys? If you’re able to inspect the unit and determine what the damage is already, paying them to leave may be the most affordable option for you in the long-run. This would avoid the eviction costs and give you some insurance that they won’t damage things any worse.

    For a full description of how cash for keys works, check out this article https://rentprep.com/collecting-rent/cash-for-keys-program-pay-renters-leave/

    Aside from this suggestion, I would say be sure to document everything. Which I’m gathering you’re already doing if you have video of them. Be sure to take pictures of everything and create a file that contains all things relating to this rental unit. If you end up going down a legal road you’ll need rock solid documentation.

    Let us know how things turn out. Good luck to you through this and hang in there. The good news is that once they’re out, you can start fresh.

  12. You can call the police (which I would recommend doing) but this won’t evict them any faster than the court systems will allow if they’re already in the process.

  13. So sorry to hear this Jess 🙁

    This is always every landlords worst fear. Hopefully you can recoup some of the damages with a security deposit, but I’m sure you’re already in deep with the cost of the eviction, lost rent etc.

    If you’re willing to share your story on our blog and help other landlords learn from your experience, I’ll give you some free background checks to help ensure this doesn’t happen again.

    Email me if you’re interested steve@rent-prep

  14. I know we are not allowed to do this, but what about going to the unit when the tenant is not there and change the locks, then provide notice that all contact is to be done through your lawyer, most tenants that don’t pay will probably not go the lawyer route and just end up leaving…. what is the worst a tenancy Board could do to a landlord for doing this?

    • I’d be less worried about the tenant board and more concerned with breaking the law.

      I’ve known of landlords to be charged with trespassing and wrongful eviction in criminal court when trying to bypass eviction processes. There have even been cases where the landlord was found guilty of intentional infliction of emotional distress, and forced to pay damages.

      Bottom line – it’s not worth it. Don’t do it. Follow the law and manage your property like a responsible business with no emotional attachment that causes you to do irrational things.

  15. You said it Barb.. good screening is the only answer.

    A landlord I know had a tenant put concrete mix in the toilet and ruined the plumbing all the way to the street. Which then required the driveway to be ripped out to repair. 28k later, all the landlord has is a useless judgment the tenant will never pay.

    In a perfect world, the new landlord will call that previous landlord and find out what a mess this tenant caused. But that landlord never received a call or inquiry. The judgment helps if you’re running a background check, but if the new landlord skips the background check and verification calls, then the cycle continues.

    Barb, since you mentioned having the T-shirt, email me directly and I’ll send you a free T-shirt we printed up recently that I think you’ll love. steve@rent-prep

  16. I hear you Jayne. Unfortunately the laws will always favor the resident over the owner.

    With regard to the appliances, my advice is to take pictures and conduct inspections before they leave. I’ve seen situations where the landlord had to use pictures to prove the appliances were in the apartment after the tenants flat out lied and said there were never any.

    Also, have you considered Cash for Keys? https://rentprep.com/collecting-rent/cash-for-keys-program-pay-renters-leave/

  17. Not answering calls or responding to texts is never a good sign.. I think you know exactly what you’re dealing with here Jayne.

    Hopefully you walk away from this with as little damage as possible. And this maybe obnoxiously obvious but, you have to screen the hell out of your next tenants! Avoiding these people all together is the only way to survive as a landlord.

  18. I hope you got a security deposit from them! Otherwise you’ll be invoicing for the damages. And with them being on disability, you’ll likely never see that money.

    I’m not sure what you’d be able to charge, if anything for the hole they dug. That’s one you’ll probably have to eat. But the carpet can easily be tracked and added to the damages that cost you money to repair.

  19. Your principles are right and just questionoftruth. Unfortunately principle can get very expensive for landlords. Is it worth $10,000 in damages to be able to say you taught the tenant a lesson? If so, then don’t ever do cash for keys. For the rest of us, it’s a business decision to minimize risk and loss.

  20. I’m sorry you have to deal with bad tenants. I own a few properties myself and had to have a property manager deal with the headache with bad tenants. Were you able to sell your properties?

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