Many landlords get nervous about the thought of going through a lawsuit to evict your tenants or recover back rent. What you may not have considered are the cases where the tenants may choose to sue you. Understanding the situations that enable a tenant to sue you, and how to avoid these situations, helps you operate your property management business without the threat of a lawsuit.
Security deposits can be the sticking point of an otherwise great rental relationship. When it comes time to look through the rental unit to determine whether repairs need done, make sure you understand the definition of reasonable wear and tear and how that applies to the apartment. If you do need to deduct anything from the security deposit, make sure you completely itemize it so there's no question where the money went. Additionally, store and return the security deposit in the way required by your state's landlord and tenant laws. Getting the security deposit back to the previous tenant in a timely manner not only cuts down on lawsuit risk, it also helps them out with moving expenses.
Another major sticking point for tenants is property maintenance. As a landlord, you're required to keep the property in a habitable state at all times. If you can't do that, tenants may have the opportunity to sue you for constructive eviction or other damages. If there is an issue with the property, make sure you stay on contact with the tenant on the status of the repairs. If they are frequently updated about the fact work is occurring, it makes them more charitable even if repairs take longer than intended. Don't overlook a request for repair by a tenant. Even if it's not anything major, you want the tenant to know you take their request seriously.
Do you have rental units located in higher crime areas? While you may not technically be required to incorporate security measures beyond a typical lock and deadbolt in the property, a court may find you liable for crime and tenant losses if you don't go above and beyond the standard requirements. Consider a home security system to give your tenants peace of mind and increase the rental appeal of your unit.
Get Everything in Writing
Make sure your rental contracts have every relevant point in writing. You want to cover your responsibility to the unit, the tenant's responsibilities, recourse, and other import facets of landlord tenant law applicable to your rental. When you have everything down in writing, there's no dealing with he-said she-said verbal contracts that are difficult to prove in a lawsuit.
Maintain a Good Relationship with Your Tenants
Sometimes avoiding a lawsuit is as simple as having a good relationship with your tenants. You aren't going to be their best friends, since you want to have a professional and not a too-personal relationship with them, but treating them as valuable tenants whose concerns are heard and addressed helps a lot. If you're available to your tenants, stay on top of their repairs, and touch base every so often to make sure they aren't having any problems with the unit, you can avoid unhappy tenants.
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