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
- What To Do When Tenant Damages Rental Property
- Get Your Emotions In Check
- Identify And Document The Damage
- Quantify The Damage
- Pursuing Damages: Law Enforcement And The Courts
- Leave Us A Message For The RentPrep Podcast
- Landlord Nightmares In The News
- FAQs – What To Do If A Tenant Damages Property
- Landlord Rights When Tenant Destroys Property
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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 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.
Below are answers to some of the most frequent questions that landlords have when dealing with tenants who choose to damage rental properties.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.