If your tenant is destroying your property, eviction isn’t your only option to protect your investment. In fact, evictions are expensive and time-consuming, so they should be your absolute last resort. We’ll guide you through other potential solutions.
If the tenant is actively destroying property, here are some steps you can take now:
- Inspect and document damage
- Determine the cause and intent
- Call a contractor
- File an insurance claim
- Try to find a resolution
If the tenant has already done significant property damage, here are some next steps:
- Offer cash for keys
- Hire a property manager
- Sell the property to an investor
- Take legal action
- Last resort: Eviction
What to do when a tenant is destroying your property
1. Inspect and document the damage
If you suspect that your tenant damaged your property, your first step should be to assess and record the extent of the damage. In most states, you must notify your tenant about the inspection at least 24 hours beforehand.
Some states require landlords to provide written notice, while others only require oral notice. Check here to find your state’s requirements. You can search for an online template to issue a written notice if necessary.
How to document property damage
During the inspection, take extensive videos and photos of the damaged areas. Before a new tenant moves in, you should take lots of pictures of the property. Then you can compare the photos and see the extent of the damage.
“Landlords should have video and pictures of the home before, during, and after a tenant leaves. You’ll never be sorry that you have too many pictures,” says Jaymie Quigley, a rental property owner based in Kuna, Idaho.
Assess the extent of the damage to the best of your ability. Eventually, you should hire a contractor to estimate the full extent of the damages.
2. Determine the cause of the damage
You’ll need to figure out the cause of the damage to get any compensation. Unfortunately, determining the cause of property damage can be hard.
We recommend that you contact an attorney to help you through this process. They can help you order a cause and origin investigation to uncover what caused the harm. Or you can file an insurance claim. Usually, your insurance company will send an adjuster to inspect the damages. They may also order a cause and origin investigation.
Types of property damage
There are three primary types of property damage: wear and tear, accidental, and intentional. It’s important to note what kind of damage your property sustained.
Wear and tear is damage that happens naturally from use and time. For instance, hardwood floors will probably get some scratches over time.
It’s typically the landlord’s responsibility to cover wear and tear expenses. But you can also check your lease and state laws to see if your tenant is partially responsible.
Accidental damage is unintentional damage the tenant does to the property. For example, your tenant could drill holes without studs. The holes might be superficial, but this damage could accidentally cause structural harm.
Other common types of accidental damage include broken windows, frozen pipes, and water damage.
Intentional damage is harm a tenant does to the property on purpose. Intentional damage includes things like vandalism, graffiti, hoarding, and cutting wires. If your tenant intentionally damages property, they’re usually financially liable for it.
You may also be able to evict them, depending on state laws and your lease agreement. That said, evicting your tenant should be your final option. Eviction is expensive and time-consuming.
Your lease should define what damage is wear and tear, accidental, or intentional. It should also discuss who’s financially responsible for damages under certain conditions.
The lease might state that if tenants don’t report damage, they have to pay to fix it. For example, if a tenant doesn’t report a minor roof leak, they might have to pay for any resulting water damage.
Lease terms vary depending on the state, property type, agreement type, and landlord. Consider hiring an attorney to help you navigate landlord-tenant laws.
Tenant lease example
This North Carolina property lease states:
- Landlords cover wear and tear
- Tenants cover accidental damage from misuse or neglect
- Tenants cover intentional damage (which can lead to lease termination)
3. Call a contractor
You’ll need an experienced contractor to determine the extent of the property damage. They should give you an estimate of how much it will cost to fix the damages and how long it will take.
The contractor’s estimate should tell you how much compensation to ask for from your insurance company or tenant.
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4. File an insurance claim
Look into your insurance coverage and policy details to see if they will cover the damage. Then decide to file a claim.
The two most common types of insurance for landlords are homeowner’s insurance and landlord insurance. Homeowner’s insurance and landlord insurance frequently cover accidental damage and natural disasters. But most of these policies don’t cover wear and tear and intentional damage.
Is it worth filing a claim?
If your policy will cover the damage, it’s usually worth filing a claim. But here are some pros and cons to help you decide.
- You might get the money to cover the damages
- You could meet your deductible and the insurance would cover any further damages
- You might not fix the problem and have to file a claim anyway
- The insurance adjuster might reject your claim if they find out you concealed the issue
- Your deductible might be as high as the cost of repairing the damage
- Your premium usually goes up when you file a claim
You’ll need pictures of the damage and necessary documents to file an insurance claim. You should include any estimates from your contract and any relevant insurance forms.
Your insurance company will send someone to check the damage in a few days.
Your claims adjuster may hire another investigator to determine the cause of the damages. If the investigator finds out that the damage was intentional, your insurance probably won’t pay for it.
If your insurance company approves your claim, you’ll get paid in a few days, weeks, or months. The amount of time you should expect to wait will depend on your state.
5. Try to find a resolution with the tenant
Wear and tear
Check your lease to determine who’s liable for general repair costs. If your property suffered standard wear and tear, you’ll likely need to pay for the expenses yourself. If your tenant is partly responsible for the damages, you might be able to split the cost.
Check if your insurance policy covers accidental damages. If it doesn’t, ask your tenant to cover part or all of the damages, according to the lease.
Before charging your tenant, check state laws and your lease agreement. If your tenant intentionally harmed your property, they’re usually liable for the damages. You can charge them directly, add a fee to their rent, or take it out of their security deposit.
If the tenant doesn’t cooperate
If the tenant refuses to pay, you should hire an attorney to help you determine whether to seek damages.
Can a landlord evict a tenant for damaging property?
Yes, in most cases, you can evict a tenant who purposely damages property. But eviction is a complicated legal process and not always the best solution.
You’ll need to check state laws and your lease agreement before you make a decision. We also recommend hiring an attorney.
What to do if a tenant trashed your house
1. Offer cash for keys
If a tenant is causing problems, you can offer them money to leave and end their lease early. Offering cash for keys is often cheaper than evictions.
How much you offer depends on the location, local cost of living, amount of rent owed, and extent of the damage. Landlords often offer $500–2,000, plus the security deposit.
If you pay a tenant to leave, you can avoid expensive legal processes and time-consuming evictions. But you’ll need to have your tenant sign a written cash-for-keys agreement. Otherwise, they could take your money and still refuse to leave.
Also known as adverse possession, “squatter’s rights” refers to an individual’s right to an eviction. In most states, an unauthorized person living on another person’s property has to be evicted.
If the squatter stays there for a certain number of years, they may even eventually own the property. Squatter’s rights depend on the state you’re in.
2. Hire a property manager
You can hire a property manager to handle rent collection, maintenance, and evictions.
Experienced property managers understand local and state landlord-tenant laws. So they should have standard practices for dealing with tenants damaging property. And they can help resolve tenant conflicts or take legal action if necessary.
3. Sell the property to an investor
Instead of dealing with tenant conflict and potential eviction, you can sell the property to an investor. Many investors are willing to buy houses with existing tenants.
Also, investors usually buy property as-is. Selling property as-is is especially useful when a tenant has trashed your house. You won’t need to worry about repairs, cleaning, or junk removal.
Investors usually buy houses for cash. Clever Offers is a platform that connects you to these prospective cash buyers for free.
Clever Offers will help you get multiple competitive offers on your property. You can find a buyer who aligns with your financial goals, like cash or seller financing.
Clever can also connect you with an experienced realtor in your area. They will help you sell your home at a reduced commission percentage. Try Clever Offers for free.
4. Take legal action
If you don’t want to part ways with your rental property, you may need to take legal action against your tenant. We recommend consulting with a real estate attorney.
Legal action might be a good choice if you have ample evidence against your tenant. This proof includes things like photographs, repair estimates, and a signed lease agreement. The lease should outline who’s liable for accidental and intentional damages.
You should also probably order a cause-and-origin investigation. If the tenant caused the damages, the investigator can provide testimony in court.
However, taking a tenant to court is also expensive and time-consuming. And there’s no guarantee that you’ll win.
Finally, even if you win the case, you’ll still need to collect the money from your tenant. Depending on the extent of your damages, your tenant may not have the money to repair your property.
Last resort: Evicting a tenant
A tenant damage property eviction should be your last option. It can use up a lot of time and money, and it hurts both you and your tenant.
Before starting an eviction, you have to be familiar with both your and your tenant’s rights. There are federal and state landlord rights when a tenant destroys property. Eviction laws depend on where you live. We recommend working with a legal expert.
A real estate attorney can help you understand federal, state, and local laws and requirements. They can also help you review the terms of your lease to make sure you’re not violating lease agreement by evicting your tenant. An attorney can also help you with documentation and notifying your tenant.
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