Tenant stole my stainless steel refrigerator

25 Replies

I have a single family rental property in houston Texas. I had a tenant move in and three months later, she moved out in the middle of the month and stole my stainless steel refrigerator, not to mention she never paid me for that month. She never told me she was moving, she just up and left. Of course I have a picture of her drivers license and her ssn. I was wondering if there is anything I can do with that information to make me feel better. Its not even really about the money, just that I don't think she should be able to get away with that. Can I put some kind of lien on her credit report or file a theft report with the police? Has anyone had any experience with this?

Hey @Dante Devine ,

I'm sorry that happened to you.

Unless you know she has assets, it's not worth pursuing. Otherwise, you'll be spending a lot of money on attorney fees. Or you can take her to small claims court.

@Dante Devine you need to go through the eviction process. You could certainly go to the police and file a report of a stolen refrigerator but you need to weigh the benefit of getting your refrigerator back vs. the cost of the lawsuit. Going through the eviction process may be a long process so is it worth the value of the $500 refrigerator (could be as much as $1,000 or more depending on the model but you get the point). I'm not in Texas but where I am in MA, if you go through the eviction process the amount of back rent owed goes on the tenant's credit report so you at least know that until they pay you they can't get a car loan, mortgage, etc. without paying you off first.

Wow, sorry that happened to you. This is why I prefer only supplying ranges and dishwashers in my rentals. Did you have the serial number, and was it listed in your lease? If you have the serial number, you can file a police report. Even if you don't, you can do it anyway, but it's going to be pretty hard for them to prove it is your fridge without it if and when they do find her.

Their biggest problem and yours will be locating her. I'm going to be investing in Texas soon, and one of the things that attracts me the most is the ability to do a quick eviction. Had you started one against her yet since she was quite late on rent? Hopefully you have a deposit you can keep.

@Sharon Tzib I do have the deposit, so thats cool. I might just swallow my pride on this one and leave it alone.

@Rob Beland , I do however like the idea of making sure she pays me before being able to get a loan although I doubt she will be ever in a position to do that so it might just be wasted eviction costs.

I didn't even bother filing an eviction since she is already gone. If I don't decide to purse this refrigerator (which actually came with the house when I bought it so no real big loss), does it matter if I just pocket her deposit and call it a day?

Lesson, if it isnt there, it cant be stolen....

i have a general question about this situation.. not trying to hijack but it goes to what you said... no need to evict because she is gone.

What if any rights does the tenant have if she came back to the property and says well its still my rental property? What if she left some stuff are you responsible for storing it? I guess what i am asking is it still necessary to file an eviction notice?

When does a tenant forfeit their rights to apartment? Yes i get she stole from you but again you would have to prove that but more asking in general is it still worth filing eviction or anything to protect yourself from a crazy tenant coming back?

I would think that because they aren't paying rent, it would be hard for them to argue possession in court.

You need to check for your area. Each state has personal property disposal laws.

For instance in GA if a tenant vacated you still have to check if utilities are on and make sure they didn't try and sublease it to somebody else. If most of the stuff there is trash or a value under 500 here in GA than most attorneys will say forget filing eviction as you can show abandonment of the unit. If it appears over 500 in value then the attorneys usually say here that the tenant is still storing items and to proceed with eviction. You do not want a tenant claiming their crap is worth 10,000 in valuables and you threw it away without a legal right to do so. They will lawyer up and seek money.

You simply document with pictures and video and rekey all access points right away. Even if the tenant has abandoned the unit they might get a bright idea to sub lease to someone else for a small fee to make cash for a few months and you would have to then go through the eviction and put something like "and all others" to cover anyone in the unit at the time of the Marshall coming out.

Doesn't matter if subleasing is not allowed in your lease. No legal advice.

Your lease should have a clause for abondement and if so exercise that option to take possession back.

I think I'd let it go, since it was presumably older anyway if it came with the house. If she was the tenant when you bought the house, and it wasn't made clear through estoppel agreements as to who owned the frig, is it possible it was hers anyway?

From another perspective, putting the serial number in the lease going forward is sort of putting the tenant on notice that there won't be any question in the future as to who owns it, and might just prevent this sort of thing. The tenant might realize that it won't be a grey area and not bother stealing it.

Sometimes I think being prepared and professional stops some of the tenant shenanigans before they happen. Deadbeats know the difference between a prepared and unprepared landlord.

@Dante Devine I agree with @Ann Bellamy since it was older and came with the house I don't know if it's worth the trouble.

I would replace it and move on and chalk it up to lesson learned in landlording.

I don't let tenants steal from me and get away with it.

First, you need to research what the unit abandonment laws are for this city. I'm not sure that you have to file an eviction. Then, you also need to research what the law allows you to collect in the case of a unit that is abandoned. For example, in my city when a tenant abandons a unit, I can collect redecorating fees, advertising, and the lost rent until the unit is re-rented or until the lease expires. That can be a very large claim-thousands and thousands of dollars. I would also file a police report for the fridge. When you have a compiled list of all losses, I would submit it to a collection agency I use that reports to all 3 credit bureaus. You can look them up at www.gofic.com. It won't cost you anything, and they will share 50% of what they collect with you. At the very least, you know that the next time this person applies for a rental, they are going to have to explain why they have such a large open collection related to a rental on their credit report.

Just make sure that when you submit the collection, you document all the losses very carefully-the collection agency will require it because if the debtor questions the debt, which they frequently do, the agency will need to have proof substantiating the details of the claim.

Good luck and I hope you eventually get some of your money back. If you are going to continue renting, check out the book Landlording on Autopilot by Mike Butler. The guy is a genius and it is probably my favorite RE book. It will make dealing with tenants a lot easier.

Dante did you have an estoppel agreement signed before closing showing no undisclosed agreements verbal or written between tenant and owner you were purchasing from??

If it was an assigned contract you would also want it applying to the direct owner.

If you had an estoppel was a fridge mentioned as belonging to the apartment owner in the lease?? Do you have a receipt from the former owner on the fridge purchase and it's transfer to you upon closing of the property as an asset??

If you do not have the things I mentioned then it seems on this particular issue your stance will be very weak in court. The tenant could claim the landlord doesn't own it. That's where your receipt comes in. The tenant could claim you don't own it when the property was sold and that's when the transfer of assets come in. The tenant could claim they had an agreement with landlord selling they property that they get to keep it in exchange for not doing repairs to the property or they could say they bought it off of the landlord or they purchased it elsewhere.

If you don't have the documents then I don't see you winning this one and wasting a lot of time and money. Even if you win and get a judgment is the tenant collectible today or judgment proof??

Probably need to just move on from this. No legal advice.

@Dante Devine From what you said in your original post, it sounds like the fridge came with the house when you purchased it, but the tenant moved in at a later time. Is that correct?

I like what @Eric S. had to say about using a collection agency that reports to all three credit bureaus and what documentation to prepare. Ditto on filing a police report. He's also right about the book recommendation. And certainly the importance of following the residential landlord-tenant laws for your jurisdiction.

For the reasons mentioned by @Joel Owens , it is important to keep good documentation about proof of ownership. Court is only for the well prepared and only if there is potential for a good ROI (return on investment - of your time and money).

@Ann Bellamy makes a good point about noting the serial numbers of appliances that were in the house at the time you entered the lease agreement and documenting such in the lease agreement. I'm going to start doing that from now on.

I've had window curtains stolen and a few other "unattached" items from time to time, but never experienced someone taking off with one of my appliances.

Unfortunately, we all take losses from time to time with tenants who don't fulfill the terms of their rental agreement and leave us with some real losses. Those tenant records go into my "red" file. Some I should have taken to collections, some I should have taken to small claims court. This topic inspires me to set up an efficient process for following up after someone steals from me... whether is stolen items or unpaid rent/utilities or damages to my property.

Updated about 4 years ago

Yep, Sharon Tzib gets credit too for good ideas. Sorry I missed giving her a nod.

@Ann Bellamy , I like your thought about including appliance serial numbers on the lease. I include at least a stove and refrigerator in my units, and in the higher end ones, a dishwasher, washer/dryer, and built-in microwave. For the newer ones, I have the receipts, but this is a great idea.

I'm sorry this happened to you @Dante Devine

thanks for the compliments, but it was @Sharon

@Sharon Tzib 's idea. I just took it one step further to record it going forward in the lease to put the tenant on notice.

One of the great things about BP, we all get better.

Thanks for the credit @Ann Bellamy ! I learned this trick after I had my first cost segregation performed and the serial numbers were noted on it. I thought, wow, I should really incorporate those into my leases, as they are excellent proof and can avoid a "he said, she said" situation. Like @Marcia Maynard I've never had a tenant steal appliances from me either, but it can never hurt to be prepared, as Ann says, deadbeats can see an unprepared landlord a mile away :)

Here in Dallas if they leave things in the unit you need to file an eviction. All they need to tell the judge is we went out of town to get the rent money we came back and the landlord put our things in the street and stole the refrigerator out of the unit.

Joe Gore

Sorry for the loss of the fridge.

In my lease which is basically Florida Association of Realtors' standard lease agreement we have this language:

PROPERTY RENTED. Landlord leases to Tenant the land and buildings located at ___________________, Florida zip code _________ together with the following furniture and appliances [List all furniture and appliances. If none, write "none."] (In the Lease, the property leased, including furniture and appliances, if any, is called "the Premises"):


May be I should also note serial numbers where appropriate?

But if you have a broken washer and needs to replace it, do you create an addendum to the lease just to refresh the serial number? Or is this an overkill?

@Sam Leon I've created addendums to my leases many times for different reasons, like changing the mailing address for rent due or the addition of a pet. I never think updating your contracts is overkill :)


If the tenant left owing you money, it might be worth it to report the debt on their credit report. Maybe someday they'll want to get a loan and will decide to pay you off to clear up the negative mark on their credit. Or, if nothing else, you could help warn other landlords who check their credit before renting to them.

Here's one such way to do it: https://www.aoausa.com/secure/mrLandlorddebtreportingservice.html

Good luck.

Thanks for all the advice everyone. I am going to look into current laws in my state and see if its worth the cost of getting it attached to their credit report. I'll spend some extra money just to make sure they aren't encourage by their behavior, but not too much. All great responses. I love this community. Thanks.

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