Tenants are responsible for any damages that they or their guests cause to a rental property. Under may state laws, tenants must take reasonable care of the property and pay for repairs of damages from their neglect or abuse beyond normal wear and tear. Property damage can be anything from a hole punched in the wall or a broken window to a broken garbage disposal or a cracked door frame. Because tenant-landlord disputes can quickly turn negative, there are appropriate ways to deal with tenants when it comes to making repairs. Make sure the law is on your side every time you deal with your tenants about any damage to your property. Here are five ways to handle tenants that cause damage to your rental property:
1) Deduct from the Security Deposit
Don’t forget to still follow the laws of your state when it comes to refunding the tenant’s security deposit. While the cost of repairs in an event like this will more than likely exceed the amount of the deposit, you are still required to send an itemized list of repairs with the costs deducted from the deposit to the tenant within a set number of days.
Check with your state’s laws on refunding deposits or providing a withholdings list. If the cost of repairs exceeds the deposit amount, you can notify the tenant that you will start legal proceedings to recover the remainder.
2) Call Your Local Police
Always contact your local police department to report the damage and destruction. This helps you with official paperwork to document the event and see if there is enough to lead to an arrest. Note that just because you file a police report, it doesn’t mean there will be an arrest or criminal charges. If the damage is significant enough and numerous valuable items were stolen, the police may consider it a criminal case and file charges.
It’s possible that charges such as criminal mischief could be filed. If there are additional illegal elements that are tied up with the damage, the police are more likely to take action.
3) Seek Restitution via Civil Court
Often the police department won’t make an arrest in cases like this so your other option is to seek restitution via civil court. This means you file a lawsuit seeking compensation for the cost of repairs of the damage. 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 is likely you won’t recover much in the long run.
4) Send a Reparation Letter
Send the tenant a letter to let her know that you will be contacting someone to give an estimate to repair the damages. Once the estimate is given, you must arrange to have the repair made. Remind the tenant that under state law, you are allowed to enter the rental property to make scheduled repairs and to provide access to service personnel. Conclude the letter by saying that you will pay for the tenant-caused damages, and then send her a bill to repay you. Sign and date the letter, make a copy for your files and then deliver it by hand or certified mail.
5) 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.
Regardless of the offense, if anything crazy happens to your property make sure that you document it properly. Here are some tips to do just that:
Take Pictures and Video: As soon as you discover the damage, grab your video camera and still camera and take video and pictures of every inch of the rental property. This documentation is valuable in establishing the level of destruction for a future court case. Make sure the images have a time stamp and date stamp on them.
Gather Bids for Repairs: As soon as you can, 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.
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