If Someone Destroys My Property, Can I Sue?
Property management and landlordship can be a lucrative form of passive income well worth the investment, but dealing with difficult and destructive tenants creates headaches and financial strains you can’t always anticipate. From excessive negligence to intentional damage and destruction, having an irresponsible tenant can lead to thousands in repair costs and leave your property vacant for months, leading to lost income. So if your tenant destroys your property, can you sue? The answer to that question depends on a few factors:
Destruction vs. Normal Wear and Tear
Most property owners purchase a residential or commercial building that has already been in use for some time, sometimes decades or centuries. While these older buildings are typically cheaper than newer constructions or building a rental property yourself, they do come with some setbacks.
Specifically, older properties may be more susceptible to wear and tear damage, especially on roofs, high traffic areas like doorways and stairs, and frequently used plumbing fixtures like sinks and toilets. This means that regular, everyday use can lead to damage that requires costly repairs. By law, tenants cannot be held responsible for costs associated with normal wear and tear. However, if damage exceeds what can be considered normal deterioration, you may be able to allocate security deposit funds to repairs, seek reimbursement through the courts, or both.
Repair or Replacement: Determining the Best Course of Action
When evaluating a recently vacated rental space with significant damage, determining the best course of action for getting it back into prime condition usually depends on three main factors: time, cost, and extent of the necessary repairs. In some cases, repairs are simple enough to be performed yourself or at a low cost and will allow the space to be rented fairly quickly. In other cases, the restoration process can be time-consuming and costly, leaving you scrambling for relief.
Determining the best course of action for restoring your property after extensive damage should be done with the consultation of a trained professional.
Attempting to cut corners to save time or money may come back to haunt you if faulty repairs cause further damage or injury for new tenants. In some cases, it is best to replace damaged appliances, stationary structures like counters and cabinets, or other damaged property. Properly documenting the damage, consultation findings, and costs will make it easier to recover your money in court.
Documentation: Protecting Your Interests
Simply taking photos and videos of damage left behind by vacating tenants may not be enough to protect your property and financial interests. Being proactive about your documentation means ensuring your lease and rental agreements clearly communicate all tenant responsibilities, applicable fees for breach of contract, and your own responsibilities as a landlord. Delegating maintenance and repair costs to your tenant can not only save you money, but may inspire a greater level of consideration for the property when they are responsible for repairs. Be sure to check your local and state guidelines for what your legal obligations are in regard to maintaining the property, though. Otherwise, you may be left footing a hefty bill anyway.
Damages Caused By Guests and Non-Residents: Who is Responsible?
While it is generally understood that residents will be held to some degree of liability for damages caused to property during their tenancy, what are your options when the damages were caused by a visiting non-resident? Perhaps a party got out of control or there was some form of an accident: who is responsible for covering the costs of repair?
If your property was damaged by the fault of a resident’s guest, you may be able to seek legal action against both parties. These cases can be difficult to navigate depending on the circumstances, so proactive measures are encouraged. Make sure your rental agreement clearly states that any violations or damages caused by persons visiting tenants will be the responsibility of said resident to protect your interests in the court of law. Policies that require the tenant to be present when guests are using communal facilities such as pools, recreational areas, or on-site gyms can further protect you from legal issues. In some cases, such as instances of domestic violence, a court may not hold the resident liable, but you can move forward with legal action against the offending party.
If your property was damaged by a current or former tenant and you want to know your legal rights, contact Onyx Group Legal today for a free consultation. Our knowledgeable and experienced team is here to help you exercise your rights as a landlord or property manager.