How to Handle Property Damage From Renters

Even if you’re very careful with tenant screening and you make efforts to keep your tenants happy at all times, there’s a chance you could suffer property damage from those tenants. It might have been an accident. It might have been intentional. It can range from minor to severe.

In any case, how you handle this situation could dictate whether you’re capable of getting reimbursement for the damage – and what your tenant relationship is like moving forward.

Remain Calm and Polite

First and foremost, it’s important to remain calm and polite throughout the entire process. When finding out about the damage, you may feel angry, and justifiably so, but you need to control and focus that anger if you want to see decent results. Yelling at your tenant, blaming them for the damage, or threatening to take them to court are only going to make matters worse.

Conversely, if you’re polite and understanding from the better beginning, your tenant may be much more likely to negotiate with you – and eventually pony up the money to cover the damages.

Investigate the Damage

Once you’re in a calm mindset, you’ll want to investigate the damage yourself. Regardless of how the damage occurred or how you found out about it, you’ll need to do a thorough review to figure out how much damage was done – and document it.

There are a few important reasons to do this. For starters, the information you’ll gather during this stage will help you estimate the cost of repairs. Once you have a better understanding of the extent of the damage, you’ll be in a better position to move to the next step. This is also a chance to find out if there are other forms of damage you didn’t originally know about.

During this process, document everything you can as thoroughly as possible. That means taking photos from multiple angles, taking videos, recording your conversations with your tenant, and even collecting text messages and emails. If you end up taking this case to court, you’ll need to have as much evidence of the damage as possible.

Get Estimates for the Repairs

With all the evidence in hand, you’ll be ready to get estimates for the repairs that need to be done. Talk to a few different contractors to get their perspective on the situation, and be ready to bring a handful of quotes to your tenant. It’s important to prove the true costs of the damage – and presenting your tenant with multiple quotes can solidify your claim.

Talk to Your Tenant

You’ve likely been talking to your tenant throughout this process, but now’s the time to get serious about resolving the issue. Hopefully, your tenant will be willing to work with you; if they admit they caused the damage and they’re willing to be accountable, you’ll have far more options.

The most straightforward way to close the issue is to request your tenant to pay for the full damage directly. If they agree to this, you’re in the clear. They may also attempt to negotiate a different deal; for example, they may offer to pay for half the cost of damages if it wasn’t totally their fault, or they may want to pay for the damages over time, in smaller increments. It’s up to you whether you want to accept the offer, but working together can be beneficial for both of you.

If your tenant is non-responsive, if they’re aggressive, or if they’re adamant about not paying, you may need to escalate the situation.

Escalation Options

There are several options available to you to cover the damage if your tenant isn’t willing to pay for the damages upfront.

  • Use the security deposit to cover the damages. One of the most important points of an initial security deposit is to have it available to cover damage caused by the tenant. You can notify your tenant that you’ll be keeping some or all of their security deposit to fix the damage.
  • Take your tenant to small claims court. If the security deposit isn’t enough to cover the full extent of the damages, or if you’re not able to tap into it for one reason or another, you could take your tenant to small claims court to recover the damages.
  • Evict the tenant. If your tenant has a history of damaging your property, or if there are other issues with their tenancy, you may be able to evict them.

Dealing with property damage from a tenant is never easy or fun, but it can be much smoother if you follow these important steps. Your goals are to cover the costs of repairs and preserve the tenant relationship as much as possible; if you can do both, you’ll be in a great position.

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