Good news you will rarely have tenants who damage your property beyond the amount of the security deposit that you’ve collected. In my 23 years of property management, I can count on one hand the number of times this has happened. It’s even rarer that you’ll have to go to court.
But, you do want to be prepared.
Normal Wear and Tear vs. Damage
As a landlord, you cannot charge your tenant’s security deposit for normal wear and tear. This might include scuff marks on the wall and wear marks on the carpet and small nail holes in the wall. Differentiating between normal wear and tear and damage can be a bit of a gray area. Damage is often one single and avoidable incident. Wear and tear, on the other hand, is gradual and unavoidable.
Examples of damages are as follows:
A tenant has a dog that tears up and scratches hardwood or bamboo flooring.
Major plumbing problems occur because something was shoved down the toilet.
Or, a combination of many items. So, if you have damages that exceed the security deposit, what do you do?
Itemize Your Charges
Get receipts for the repairs you need to make, and invoice your tenant for the amount of those damages. Give them a timeline to respond with payment. Typically, that should be 14 to 30 days. Hopefully you get a check. If you don’t, move onto the next step.
Filing in Small Claims Court
In California, landlords can take a tenant to small claims court to sue for damages. Be prepared when you do this, because sometimes a tenant will counter-sue you. The courts in California are typically more sympathetic to the tenant than the landlord. Have your ducks in a row when you show up to court. Be organized, and have an itemized list with good photos and videos.
If you win your case, you get a judgment. Hopefully, you can get your money right away. If not, you can garnish your tenant’s wages. Keep in mind that in California, there’s a four-year statute of limitations to collect these damages.
If you have any questions about how to handle security deposits or tenant damage, please contact us at Penny Realty.