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My Tenant Destroyed the Apartment. What Are My Options?

Apr 15, 2020 by Tara Mastroeni

Sometimes, whether intentionally or not, tenants can damage rental units and leave landlords to deal with the aftermath. Fortunately, however, if you've found yourself in that situation, you do have options at your disposal to help cover the cost of making repairs. Read on to learn what steps you can take to receive compensation. With any luck, you'll be able get your property back up and running before you know it.

Document the damage

The first step is to get into the apartment and document any damage that was done to the unit. If you have pictures from before the tenant moved in, now is the time to collect those as well. Regardless, though, you'll want to take pictures or video of the damage, and make sure to date it, if possible. This evidence may come in handy down the road if you decide to take the tenant to court.

With that in mind, you'll also want to be sure to document any communication you have with the tenant regarding the damage. Try your best to have conversations over email or to send written letters.

Get estimates for repairs and cleaning

Your next step is to get estimates for any necessary repairs or professional cleaning. This will help you think more clearly about the amount of work that needs to be done to get the apartment back in working order and about what steps you need to take in order to be made whole.

Deduct from the security deposit

If the necessary repairs and cleaning are relatively minor, odds are you can simply deduct that amount from the tenant's security deposit. However, remember that each state has their own procedure and guidelines for withholding from a security deposit, so you'll want to be sure to check on your state's requirements before making a move.

Taking the time to follow your state's procedures will ensure that any money you withhold is rightfully yours and won't be called into question later.

File an insurance claim

In the event that the cost of the repairs is more than the amount of the security deposit, you may have the option of filing an insurance claim. Most landlord insurance policies -- also known as dwelling insurance or non-owner-occupied insurance -- will cover theft from the property. However, only some policies will cover intentional damage by the tenant.

You'll want to read through the specifics of your policy to know for sure exactly what's covered. Keep in mind, though, that if you do make a claim, you'll likely still be responsible for paying a deductible toward the cost of the repairs.

Consider going to court

Finally, if the cost of damages is truly severe, you may want to consider suing the tenant in small claims court for compensation. That said, if you decide to go this route, make sure you have evidence on hand to back up your claims. The risk of pursuing litigation is that it can be very costly, and there's no guarantee you'll come out ahead.

The bottom line

While no one wants to think about a tenant destroying their rental unit, unfortunately, it does happen occasionally. Luckily, though, if you've found yourself in this situation, there are steps you can take to be made whole again. To that end, consider using some of the options above to ease the financial burden of making the necessary repairs. Hopefully, you'll be able to use one or more of these methods to help get your rental unit back into shape.

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