As a responsible landlord or homeowner, you likely put a lot of time into screening tenants. Unfortunately, no screening process is perfect.
If you end up with a bad tenant, your rental property will often pay the price. Sometimes, the tenant will damage it by accident. Other times, they will do so on purpose—for instance, if they’re mad about getting evicted.
Either way, you’ll need to handle this situation as quickly as possible. Here’s all you need to know about how to deal with property damage.
Identify the Damage
The first thing you should do is ensure your tenant has actually damaged the property. Oftentimes, you may be looking at simple wear and tear.
Now, wear and tear can be difficult to classify. In Tennessee, it’s defined as “deterioration that occurs as a result of the tenant using the property as intended.” In this case, it would be up to you to fix your property.
Wear and tear usually falls under “normal depreciation.” Here are some common examples of wear and tear:
- Some nail holes, cracks, or dents in the walls
- Carpet faded or worn thin from walking
- Warped cabinet doors
- Mold due to lack of ventilation
- Faded paint or wallpaper
- Loose grouting in bathroom tiles
By comparison, property damage tends to be excessive and easier to identify. Common examples of property damage are:
- Dozens of nail holes or gaping holes in the walls
- Gouged or chipped wood floors
- Broken windows or doors due to abuse
- Cracked or missing bathroom tiles
- Unapproved paint jobs and wallpaper
- Stains, holes, or burns in the carpet
Document the Damage
Once you know you’re dealing with property damage, you should document it. The best way to do so is to get it on camera.
First, go through the rental house and take several photos of every instance of damage. Then, take a video of you walking through the property and describing the damage. Try to stay as objective as possible.
Having proper documentation is key to establishing the level of destruction. It also makes it easier to charge the tenant for the damage. And if your case gets to the small claims court, having proof will be invaluable.
This is a big reason why you should take pictures of your property before a tenant moves in. Having “before and after” pictures helps your case and makes it easier to establish a timeline for the damages.
Get Repair Estimates
If you’re dealing with serious damage, your rental may stay off the market for a bit. Use this time to find out how much the repairs will cost.
The key here is to get at least three or four repair estimates. That way, you can guarantee that you’re getting a fair quote. Plus, there’s always a chance that one expert’s analysis may not be as thorough as another’s.
Getting a few bids also means getting several estimates for how long the repairs will take. Your rental property is a key part of your income, so it’s important to get it back on the market as soon as possible.
Finally, make sure that you keep all copies of the bids for your potential court case. That includes any subsequent invoices you may receive.
Talk to the Tenant
Now that you know what you’re dealing with, it’s time to talk to your tenant. As a general rule, this can go one of three ways:
Does your tenant have a good rental history? Was the property damage a result of an accident? In either of these cases, there’s a decent chance you’ll be able to negotiate an amenable repair plan with the tenant.
In the best-case scenario, your tenant will be able to pay for the full repairs. If they’re unable to do so, discuss a payment plan or an alternative solution. You may need to draw up a contract on how to handle the repairs.
If a tenant poses a serious threat to your property, your best bet is to call the police. That could lead to an arrest or criminal charges, but this isn’t always the case. In most cases, reporting the tenant will result in a fine.
If the damage to your property is ongoing, you may need to file for eviction. Since this is a slow process, it’s best to use it as a last resort. Keep in mind that filing for eviction could also make the tenant hostile to you.
Is the tenant not responding to your attempts to contact them? If so, your first move should be to deduct the repair costs from their security deposit. You can follow this up by filing a claim with your insurance company.
Alternatively, you can hire a lawyer to seek restitution from the tenant. That will usually lead to filing for a court order to garnish the tenant’s wages. This approach involves a lot of legwork, but you may have no other choice.
Cover the Damages
Covering property damage is exactly what the security deposit is for. It’s your first line of defense against having to pay from your pocket.
To withhold a tenant’s deposit, you’ll first need to let them know about it. You can do that by filling out a Security Deposit Disposition form. In some states, you may need to do this within two weeks of eviction.
There’s a chance that the cost of repairs will exceed the amount of the deposit. Even so, you’re required to send the above form. Deducting money from your tenant’s deposit without proof of damages is likely to backfire.
Property Damage Made Easy
Dealing with property damage can be very stressful. Still, it’s in your best interest to remain calm and follow the above guide. As long as you can do that, your property will be back on the market soon enough!
Of course, you can also hire a property manager to take care of bad tenants for you. Not sure where to start? Our Memphis-based company has managed over 3,500 properties—contact us here to learn why!