Tenant damage to my property

15 Replies

Hello all,

Let me begin by saying thank you for any advice on this subject.

I am new to renting property as the landlord. I have rented in the past and never have I ever come close to this issue.

My tenant moved in Oct 1 2014. so not long. I put in new contractor carpet a week prior to her move in date. The kitchen has been update and so has the bathroom.

Thanksgiving apparently she had a problem with the toilet where it began to back up into the tub. She tried the plunger, her step father tried a snake. Neither worked so they dug up the pipe outside. Mind you I have not been called on this issue yet. The step father breaks open my sewer pipe. As a result it breaks in more than the one place that he was not aware of. He then snakes it again and noted that there was concrete in the pipe blocking the pipe. Still I have not been called. He then makes a make shift patch and calls it good. Leaving the pipe exposed, the access cover off of the access hole.

A day later the toilet backs up into the house and is allowed to run for several hours flooding the entire house with dirty water. Still I have not been called for now either of these two major events. Mind you this was the weekend after thanksgiving. My neighbor and lawn service called me yesterday Dec 28th to notify me of the issues that they seen over the weekend. I called the tenant and she said she did not want to bother me at first and then she said she tried to call but dialed the wrong number.

Flash forward to today I have estimates over 10K for tear out of all portions of the house that were effected by the dirty water, and the replacement of the pipe. No estimate on the replacement of carpet, baseboards, or other misc items that need to be replaced.  

I want to evict and I think I am allowed to under my agreement with the state (HUD Home). I have an attorney helping me with the legal end of that. However, I am at odds with this because I will not get any money out of her if I do evict. The house is section 8. She has a job that pays minimum wage and she owns nothing. If I remove her then I may end up with a vacant property and the bills. If I keep her I am still collecting rent. By the way the house is still mortgaged as it was my families home until I was transferred out of state, and like many I am upside down in the house due to the date of sale in 2005.

So My question is have any of you had similar issues with tenants, if so did you toss them or keep them? Keep in mind if I toss her I get nothing. Even if the courts awarded me 100% I  still get nothing as 100% of zero is still zero. 

Any ideas would be helpful. I know that the estimates are just that and I can mitigate much of this work myself rather quickly for much less as I am very handy and have experience in this area.

Thanks again for your input.


It sounds like the eviction issue is significantly secondary.

There's at least two failures if the pipe was physically restricted and the water continued to run.

Is there a reason you are not filing an insurance claim?

Best of luck - ugly situation.

The way I see it is that you are going to have to pay the repair bills whether you keep her or not. She makes very little money and will probably never be able to pay you. 

What about your homeowner's insurance? I have no idea if this would be covered or not.

What a mess. 

It sounds like keeping her or evicting her is a moot point right now because you currently have a health hazard, i.e. a house flooded with sewage. 

She'll have to move out anyway for the house to be repaired. I'd fix the house and then find a new tenant (assuming you can legally do so).  

Sorry this happened to you. 

First things, call you home owners insurance!

Honestly you are in the true definition of "darned if you do darned if you don't". Personally keeping her and having her do it all over again is worse than an empty property. Honestly you need to figure out what is best for your family and go from there. 

What a mess! So sorry it happened to you! 

Did you require the tenant to have renter's insurance? Also, do you have adequate insurance for the property? I would see if insurance will cover some of the cost. I would call in a restoration service. It is a cost of doing business and worth it to do it the right way and quickly. Compensating you for your own labor is not so easy, as there are certain things that can't be deducted as a business expense, such as your own labor.

A strong rental agreement will go a long way.  I'd be happy to share our rental agreement and property rules with you, just PM me, but you would need to modify them to meet the requirements of your jurisdiction, as well as your preferences. But it would be a place to start. Prevention is indeed the best way to go. By signing our rental agreement and property rules our tenants know what they can and can't touch, as well as when to call us.  We also tell all our tenants that whenever water is leaking or overflowing, call us immediately no matter the time of day. We emphasize this upon move-in.  We also show them how to use the shut-offs.

Learning to work with tenants who may be uneducated and/or who lack critical thinking skills is also a necessity. This could turn out to be a good learning experience for both of you. If she was not malicious, but rather just not too bright, then I would work with her and her Section 8 case manager to keep her as a tenant. I have learned over the years that common sense is not common and some tenants need more supervision than others.  On the other hand, if she is difficult to work with and has an I don't care attitude, then you may want to pursue moving her out before she causes any more damage.

My plumber told me long ago there are two things hardest on a house..... 

#1 Water going where it shouldn't be going.  

#2 A homeowner (or tenant) trying to do their own handyman work. 

Looks like you got hit with both at the same time!  I feel for you.

I should have mentioned it. I just found out last nightof the issues, and I have had plumbers and water mitigation services at the house today. I am waiting on photos of the interior of the pipe to see if there was concrete in there. The insurance will most likely pay for the water restoration service, but will not pay for the replacement of the sewer pipe from my property to the city line. That one I have to eat for sure. It is broken in a few places so patching it out. If one patch fails then I will have to redig and so forth. By the way I am not known for my good luck!  

Keep in mind I am green behind the ears as this is my first rental property and my first tenant ever. We aren't even a full 3 months into her lease yet and this is happening. Stories of bad tenants has kept me from taking the plunge a few years back when the market was real low. Now I am forced to rent as I like my credit score where it is and will not walk away from the house and I was transferred out of state for military service. The rent covers the cost of the home so long as the tenant does not do so much damage. I know I can keep her deposit, but that barely covers the deductible for any insurance claim.  

Thanks for the quick replies!


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So sorry to hear about that!

I would get your insurance guy on the phone. Then I would follow up with your attorney to see if you can evict and what the proper process would be to do so. My reasoning to evict would be if something like this has happened, after a few months, what else can happen with this tenant? I would also let people that are in charge of her section 8 payment know what has happened. Maybe they can help in some way?

Best of luck!


Wow thanks for all the level headed ideas. I do have a good lease, it was drafted by an attorney that works in real estate. It outlines that anything more than changing a light bulb or the provided AC filters she is to call and not mitigate any damage on her own until we speak. I know her father and he mentioned that she was nervous about being evicted for the clogged pipe. I explained to her that those things happen and for about $125 I can have my plumber fix it. Now she knows that. I would be interested in those rules you have drafted. Are they separate from your lease? If so do mention them in your lease as a reference?

Terrible situation.  
I have an idea......Teach her how to do what you do and help her get some investment properties, so she could actually be able to pay you back.  

Just a thought outside the box.  
Best of luck.   


I like the way you think, however, I do not think that will work in this case. But thanks for the chuckle!


@Philip LaRoche  What is her portion of rent to you? How many bedrooms is the house? 

I ask because just because she is on Section 8, that doesn't automatically mean you get nothing. It just means you won't be getting $10k, and the courts aren't going to be any help. Those questions help me gauge her income. 

The key to getting anything out of a tenant in this situation is to work with them in a way that benefits both of you. Low income tenants are used to getting pushed around in life, so usually they have over the top responses. Frankly, there's usually little upside not to, but that's a different discussion.  I would use evicting her immediately as your baseline. You may be able to get some insurance money, you'll be able to do your repairs unimpeded, and then hopefully get someone in there who doesn't attempt to dig up the yard to do sewer work. 

From there, I would offer her the following: She is going to be finding a new place to live one way or the other, so she can either work with you on doing so, or lose her Section 8. An eviction while on a voucher results in an automatic revocation of the voucher, so obviously that's the big incentive to work with you. If you can evict a normal tenant for it, you can evict a Section 8 tenant for it, so I'm guessing doing $10k in damage is covered by something in your lease and this would have teeth. Second, you offer a 1 or 2 year payment plan of payments of about 10% of her monthly income. Low enough where she can likely afford it and won't just balk, but enough over the course of payments to get something out of it, perhaps $2-3k. Third, since she won't be living there, I'd find an asset to put a lien on, such as a car. Now, obviously you're not a repo man, so you probably wouldn't ever be able to collect on the car if she walked away from the payments, but at least you'd have some leverage. 

Now if this sounds overly rosy, I'd point out that it costs you next to nothing and leaves you with the possibility of getting something. Looking at the alternative, I'd say that's an upgrade. 

Finally, if you're still strongly considering trying to keep her as a tenant just to avoid the gap in cashflow, think of it this way: In less than two months of tenancy, she's cost you $10k in repairs. If she's done it once, the odds are very good she'd do it again. Is time #2 going to cost you more than the ~1-2 months you'll need to do repairs and find another tenant right now? Quite possibly, if I could tighten the belt and afford it for a month or two, I'd get rid of her for sure. 

I would contact the local Housing Authority paying you Section 8 rent.  It is possible that they may cover damages that you can prove were caused by the tenant.

@Rashida Corker  Unfortunately they do not, they place that responsibility on the landlord to charge a deposit for damages. 

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