What Do You Do If Your Tenants Trashed Your House?

An investment property is hard work, but that’s why it’s such a source of pride for most people. So what do you do when the people you trusted to live there aren’t treating it with respect?

Ask the neighbors

The easiest thing to do is stop the destruction before it starts. Chances are you aren’t going to be able to drive past your rental property every day. But your property’s neighbors will. They see your house every day and if you have a good relationship with them, they’re more likely to call you if they see trash piling up, smell something weird coming from the house, or know that there’s a party going on every other night. Trust us. They don’t want to live next to irresponsible renters any more than you want them in your rental property. So bake some cookies, grab some wine, and start introducing yourself around the neighborhood.

Check your lease

Make sure you know exactly what cleaning clauses were in your lease. If you never agreed the renters would have the carpet professionally cleaned before they moved out, then you can’t really get mad when it doesn’t happen.

Give the benefit of the doubt

Sometimes you might be renting to someone who just honestly doesn’t know what level of cleanliness is acceptable at checkout. When you get notice that they’re planning on moving out, try providing them with a cleaning package. Give them a cleaning checklist along with some all purpose cleaner, a mop and broom, a scrub brush, and anything else you think they might need. It can be a touchy topic, but if handle it delicately it can save you--and your renter--a lot of money and headaches.

Stay calm and professional

As much as you’d love to find your former renter and knock some sense into them, you need to stay calm and professional. Flying off the handle isn’t going to help anything and it might actually hurt you if you decide to take them to small claims court.

Call police to document everything

Despite all your best efforts, your renters still destroyed your place. Your first step is to call the police. They won’t be able to take any legal action on your renters, but having a police report that documents the damage will go a long way in court if it gets that far. And they’ve seen it all. So they can reassure you that even though it’s bad--it could be a lot worse.

Document it yourself

Make sure you take your own photos, notes, and videos along with the police report. That’ll help give you more evidence for all your claims and it can help you organize a plan of attack for fixing everything.

Get bids for repairs

Get bids from licensed contractors for all the repairs you need to make. You’re going to need to give your renters written explanation for the portion of the security deposit you keep. Since it’s probably going to take some time to do all the repairs, having the estimates will help you with the letter.

Follow state laws for refunding security deposit

Just because your renters violated their lease doesn’t give you the right to violate the law. Make sure you know what your state says about refunding the security deposit. You might not have a lot of time to either give them back the deposit or give them an explanation for why you’re keeping it.

Go to civil court

If the cost of fixing everything is a lot higher than the security deposit, civil court might be your best option. If you haven’t had experience in the court system, it can seem intimidating. Start by going to your city or county’s small claims court website--or head down there in person. You’ll be able to find the right forms and get some instruction on how to file your claim and how much your fee for filing is.

Contact insurance company

If there’s no other way to pay for the repairs, contact your insurance company. Remember, your rates might increase if you file a large claim or if you file too many claims, so this should be a last resort.