Tenants have a responsibility to use care when they live in a property. They do not have a license to do damage. While they are not responsible for ordinary wear and tear, they are responsible for deliberate or negligent damage, no matter who did it (except the landlord, of course).
Proper care of the property by a tenant begins when he or she moves in. The rental agreement should state that the tenant is responsible for damage over and above ordinary wear and tear. It should also be on the Move-in Checklist. When we do the “Condition of Premises Report” walk through with the tenant, we can explain in detail examples of what damage is normal wear and tear and what is excessive, negligent and/or deliberate.
Working with tenants who have had problems in the past provides a special challenge in seeing that they maintain the unit appropriately. We have to make it crystal clear what their responsibilities are and what is expected of them.
Spend as much time as necessary to make it clear. This subject is probably where you need to spend most of your time with a new tenant whom you know has had a problem with other landlords or who has never lived on his or her own before. Sometimes they are simply so inexperienced that they don’t know what sorts of things cause damage.
Slamming doors and windows, swinging on doors, climbing up and down drain pipes, climbing lattice work are all things that cause damage, but of which some people have no idea of the cause and effect relationship. It is our job to make it clear, even at the risk of sounding nit picking.
Whatever the problem, it should not be yours, but the tenant’s. If it is a repair problem, give him or her the name of someone who can do the repairs, telling him or her the handyman can work at a reasonable price. If there are crayon marks on the wall, tell the tenant that we have an account at a certain paint store to buy paint at a lower price.
Make your tenant solve the problem.
The laws of most states say the tenant has the following duties to his or her dwelling:
¢ Use as intended in a reasonable manner
¢ Keep clean and free of rubbish and filth
¢ Dispose of garbage, rubbish, ashes and debris in “a safe and clean manner.”
¢ Keep plumbing fixtures clean
¢ Use all parts in a reasonable manner
¢ Not remove or tamper with a functioning smoke detector, including removing batteries
¢ Not deliberately or negligently destroy, deface, damage, impair or remove any part of the premises or knowingly permit any person to do so.
Getting the Tenant to Pay
When we discover damage, such as a broken window, hole in the wall or door, garbage piled up or crayon marks on the wall, send the tenant a note. In the note, remind him or her of a tenant’s responsibilities and suggest how he or she can solve the problem.
If the damage is too much for the tenant to fix on his or her own, we can do it or have it done ourselves and send the tenant a bill. In the bill specify when it must be paid and remind the tenant that any damage can be deducted from the security deposit. If the tenant cannot pay it all at once, make him or her call to arrange a payment schedule.
If none of that works, we have the final option of the 30-day Notice with Cause terminating the tenancy. That gives them 15 days to correct the problem or move in 30 days (check the specifics for your state, they vary markedly). [California “ 3-Day Notice to Cure the Violation or Move Out].
Should the security deposit be inadequate to cover the cost of the damage, we would have to first, bill the tenant for the excess, and then, when he or she doesn’t pay, obtain a judgment for the rest.
If we have done our job right at the beginning, though, the tenant will want to work out a solution with us. Some tenants have a history of not getting along with landlords, probably mostly their own doing. But on rare occasions, it is because of the attitude of
landlords whom they have rented from. Regardless of the reason, doing our job right means that we have made it clear at the beginning of the tenancy that we want them for a tenant, that problems are solvable, and that they can talk to us. If we expect good results we are likely to get them.
Robert Cain is a recognized speaker and writer on property management and real estate issues. Visit the web site www.rentalprop.com.