Even if you are diligent in screening your tenants and you routinely inspect your rental properties, unfortunately, you may still end up renting to a tenant that destroys your property. Although the laws for landlords and tenants are different from one place to the next, generally, your tenants are responsible for all damages beyond normal wear and tear. For instance, things such as appliances, flooring, and paint tend to wear out over time, so they aren’t typically considered tenant neglect. However, things such as clogged plumbing lines because the tenant continues to flush debris down the toilet, broken glass, large holes in the walls, or dents in the garage door are typically caused by tenant negligence or neglect. It’s common to hear about tenant’s rights, but the fact of the matter is that as a landlord, you have rights too. Here are some things that you as a landlord can do when a tenant destroys your property in Fredrick, Maryland.
Identify the Situation
Before you can consider pursuing legal action, it’s important to verify that in fact the tenant is or has been destroying your property. While attempting to keep your emotions in check, try to closely look at the situation. For instance, have there been past issues with the tenant that may indicate they are or have caused damage to the property? Any past issues you have had with the tenant can change the way you approach them.
Document the Damages
Before signing the rental agreement, do an initial walkthrough with the tenant, and make sure to document any minor issues, such as damaged window blinds or a stain on the carpet. Take pictures and videos of each room before the client moves in. This documentation will allow you to have a comparison of before and after the tenant moved out. After the tenant moves, be sure to take video and photos of all damages. This will make it easier to charge the tenant for repairs and if the case goes to court, it may help the judge rule in your favor. As soon as possible, gather bids for the cost of repairs necessary to restore the property back to its original condition. Keep the bids and any invoices with the photos so they will be readily available for court.
Talk to the Tenant
Once you have identified the cause of the damages, documented the type of repairs that need to be done, and gotten the estimates for repairs, it’s time to talk to your tenant. When meeting with the tenant be clear about the seriousness and what plans you have to remedy it. Keep in mind that as difficult as it may be, remaining fair and reasonable with the tenant is not only a good way to do business, but it will also work in your favor if you have to take the tenant to court. For instance, if the mirror was accidentally broken on the bathroom medicine cabinet, but the cabinet is outdated and you were planning to update it anyway, it may be reasonable to not fully charge the tenant for the cost of replacing the medicine cabinet.
Deduct the Damages
Before the tenant moved in, you probably collected a security deposit. One of the primary reasons for collecting a security deposit is to ensure you have the money available to cover any damages that were caused by the tenant beyond normal wear and tear. It is your right as a landlord to withhold all or part of the security deposit, but if you do withhold some or all of the security deposit, you must provide an itemized list of the damages to the tenant. The itemized list must include the repair costs as well as documentation, such as pictures of the damages.
What do you do if the tenant is still on the property or if the tenant refuses to leave or respond to your notices about the damages? If the tenant is still in the unit, it is essential that you document all damages, discuss the damages with the tenant, negotiate repairs, and put the agreement in writing. Make sure the tenant understands that the cost of repairs will be deducted from the tenant’s security deposit and if they refuse to have the repairs or cause more damage as a result of being notified, consider taking them to small claims court to receive a judgment against the tenant for the cost of repairs, especially if they exceed the amount of the security deposit.
If the tenant is refusing to respond to your requests for costs for repairs or they have abandoned the property, you can seek legal actions if the costs are more than the security deposit. If you go to small claims court and the judgment is in your favor, the matter will typically be turned over to a debt collector. In some situations, you may be able to file a claim with your insurance company to recover some or all of the losses resulting from tenant damages, but keep in mind that filing a claim may increase your premium costs.
As a landlord, you have the right to take legal action if your tenant has destroyed your property. It is beneficial to contact the police to report damages caused by the tenant, especially if the tenant has abandoned the property and stole items, such as the water heater or kitchen appliances. If you file a report, the police may be able to pursue criminal charges, and the police report will be helpful when filing an insurance claim or suing the tenant for damages.
If you choose to sue the tenant in small claims court, it is beneficial to hire a Maryland Landlord Tenant Lawyer that is experienced in these situations. Your attorney will also be able to provide you with detailed information about what you will need as far as documentation needed. The most important thing to remember is that documentation is critical. The more documentation and pictures you have showing what the property looked like before the tenant moved in and what it looked like after they moved out the better. Having clear pictures and signed documents can help the judge rule in your favor.