Discovering that a tenant has left your rental property damaged can be stressful. You invested time and money into buying and caring for your property and trusted that your tenants would look after it for the length of their stay.
While your first reaction upon discovering damage might be to lash out, this won’t help the situation. Here are 8 things you can do instead:
Document the Damage
Before you do anything, make sure that you have carefully inspected the property and fully documented all damage. Take photographs and video footage, ensuring that you have date and time stamps where possible along with indicators of size (e.g. placing a tape measure or common object in the frame). Store these images and videos safely as they may be useful evidence should the matter proceed to mediation or court.
Expect and Accept Normal Wear and Tear
Landlords should accept minor damage to the property that is a result of normal wear and tear, such as small carpet stains, scratches on a floor, or loose fixtures. As you carry out your inspection of the property and document damage, it is important to differentiate from damage that is normal wear and tear and more significant damage.
Once you have carried out a thorough inspection of the property and know the full extent of the repairs required, obtain professional cost estimates for all work required. It may also be helpful to obtain time estimates of when repairs can be carried out and how long they will take to complete. Keep all estimates, invoices, and receipts in a safe place. You will need these when it comes time to process the tenant’s security deposit and they will also be considered evidence should the matter proceed to court.
Processing the Tenant’s Security Deposit
The laws surrounding refunding a tenant’s security deposit vary from state to state so it is important that you do your research locally before processing any refunds or deducting costs of repairs from the security deposit.
Asking the Tenant to Pay for Repairs
If the damage caused to the property is extensive, the costs of the repairs might exceed the amount of the security deposit. Before taking further action (e.g. starting legal proceedings), contact the tenant in an attempt to resolve things amicably. Provide images of the damage along with the quotes and/or invoices you have obtained and request payment. If there was such a clause in the tenant’s lease, be sure to highlight this to the tenant. (And, if not, be sure to add this to future leases.) Keep interactions polite, professional, and to the point. Remember to keep a record of all communications between yourself and the tenant.
Taking Legal Action
If the cost of the repairs is significantly more than the security deposit and the tenant does not agree to pay for those repairs, you may decide to take legal action to recover the additional costs. For this, you will need to hire an attorney. The process will likely demand significant time and money so if the cost is small, you may decide to shoulder the loss and not pursue the legal route.
Repair the Damage as Soon as Possible
As long as the property is damaged, you will be unable to search for new tenants and, therefore, will lose income. Carry out repairs as soon as possible so that you can put the property back on the market, welcome new tenants and continue to generate income from the property.
Reducing the Risk of Damage in the Future
While you cannot predict the behavior of your tenants, having a robust tenant screening process in place is a great first step in reducing the risk of property damage. Carrying out regular inspections of the property while rented can also help you identify any minor damage before it escalates into a substantial issue. If that damage is caused by normal wear and tear, it is the landlord’s responsibility to fix it. If the damage is outside of what is considered to be normal wear and tear, you may want to discuss repairs with your tenant and, if you have concerns, explore your options with regards to evicting the tenant before serious damage occurs.