Tenant broke lease and left a mess. What recourse do i have?

9 Replies

So my tenant gave notice of breaking his lease, and was ok with the fact that he was going to lose his security deposit. Once he moved out though I found that while no major damage had been done a lot of small things were messed up.

there is large stain (looking like dog diarrhea that had been dragged across the carpet) in the living room, that I don't think is going to come out with just a cleaning, but we are trying that too.

chipped the granite counter top (no idea how or if its even worth it to fix)

a dog that we didn't not know they had scratched up the back door (sanded and painted) and our hard wood entryway (going to need to be sanded and refinished)

also a myriad of scuffs, holes, stains on many of the walls.

did not clean upon move out which is specified in the lease

I manage from afar and getting there to do it myself is not cost efficient, and I am pretty pissed with my management company and told them so but that a whole other story. What if any recourse do I have to charge them for the costs of fixing things that are definitely above normal wear and tear? they have already forfeited their security deposit, do that get applied to fixing these things? After that is all used up what then? 

I know a lot of people are going to say its just a rental and do the minimum to fix it, but this is a B+ house in an A neighborhood pulling top of the market rents, so I don't want to spend an arm and a leg but it does need to be kept in very good condition.

Thoughts or ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Nick NA just went through this.

@Kevin Harrison

It will be interesting to see what others say. My rentals are in C class areas, so I normally just clean it up, fix it up and rent it out again. In my case it definitely is not worth chasing the tenants since they often don't the cash even if I did get a court order against them. 

I would guess even in a nicer rental market, the costs and time put into pursuing the tenant legally might outweigh the money your might recover. If you are talking $5,000 to $10,000 in damages it might be worth chasing. Less then $5,000 and I would swallow my pride and move on.

Mike

Realistically you have little chance of collecting any additional money from your former tenant. Fix it up and get it re-rented and move on. This sort of thing happens. Remember that 50% rule (50% of gross rents go to expenses, capital and vacancy) nobody believes is true? This is one contributor to that number. You pay for the repairs out of your pocket if their security deposit won't cover it. Cash reserves are key to dealing with this. Six months PITI at a minimum, six months rent is better.

Assuming your lease has a lease breaking fee that allows you to charge them for breaking the lease, you would add that to the list of itemized charges.  Mine has such a fee and its equal to the deposit.  Add up the total amount, deduct the security deposit and send them the move-out letter requesting payment of the shortage.  You (or your PM) must do this in compliance with the lease and relevant laws.  Failure to do this can result in you being unable to deduct anything.  Some areas allow double or triple damages for tenants who's former landlords improperly withhold security deposits.  Failure to send that letter can trigger this, resulting in you having to give the tenant their full deposit or more.

You can try taking the tenant to small claims court for the shortage.  With good documentation, you have a good chance of winning.  But that just gets you a judgment, not money.  You have to collect on the judgment.

You can turn the judgment over to a collection agency.  For a cut, they will try to collect.  You can do that without a judgement, too.  They might get some money for you, eventually.

I think your only other option would to be to take the tenants to small claims court and try to sue them for the damages. 

Court, collections, wage garnishment which can all cost you money up front. You have to decide if it's worth it. Did you see proof of funds when they moved in? Do they have money saved up? If so, maybe it's worth it.

its really not about the money, i have the money to fix these things, its the principal of it. these people have money and an 829 credit score last time I checked. in fact the credit score was half the reason they got approved over the 2 other applicants. The biggest issues is that I am not in the same state as them. Can I not just send them a bill for the damages or do I actually have to get a judgment? or for about $1500 in damages should I just let it go?

   Yes, you will need to send an itemized statement showing security deposit and what it was used for, anyway, if you're not returning it, so send the statement showing all damages, allocation of security deposit, and balance due in a timely fashion as required by your landlord/tenant laws.  Then, if they don't pay it, which they likely won't, you can decide what other avenues you are willing to take.   I know with my last one, with all the prorating for age, like 2 years on approx 7 year carpet life, only being able to charge for cleaning fees in excess of normal wear and tear, their portion only came to the security deposit plus $200 or so, so my management just billed them the difference and moved on.  I did have to remind my management to send them the interim notice saying I had the extended time to fully list damages, so make sure you're within landlord/tenant required timelines.      

Yes, you can send them a statement and request payment of the excess charges.  And after they ignore you, you can turn that over to a collection agency to try to collect.

Do be aware of what a judge in the area where the property is will let you deduct.  For instance, judges around here won't allow any deductions for carpet that's more than three years old.  If your lease does not have an explicit lease breaking fee, you may not be able to charge them anything for breaking the lease.  Scuffs on walls and other minor damage may well be "normal wear and tear".  Only bill them for specific, documented charges.  Granite counter tops can be repaired.  Most leases specify "broom clean" which, in reality, is rarely clean enough for a new tenant.  If they're left a mess, get it cleanned and bill them.  If it passes the "broom clean" criteria, pay for the cleaning yourself. 

its really not about the money, i have the money to fix these things, its the principal of it.

Tough love here for a fellow landlord.  It is ABSOLUTELY about the money.   Tenants break our properties and that's upsetting.  But the real issue is they're taking money out of your pocket.   And consuming your time and energy to deal with this. The reality is that this is exactly the sort of thing you signed up for when you bought a rental.  This is NOT the last time this will happen.  Every time you do a turnover you're going to be repairing things.  You will never get the place back in the same condition it was when you rented it.  The trick is to buy rentals that make money even after these infrequent, unpredictable but very real expenses.

Originally posted by @Kevin Harrison :

its really not about the money, i have the money to fix these things, its the principal of it. these people have money and an 829 credit score last time I checked. in fact the credit score was half the reason they got approved over the 2 other applicants. The biggest issues is that I am not in the same state as them. Can I not just send them a bill for the damages or do I actually have to get a judgment? or for about $1500 in damages should I just let it go?

You have two choices.

1. You can brood over this for weeks.

2. Get on with your life and get the property repaired.

You're a landlord, **** happens, get over it.

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