How to Handle a Tenant Who Causes Property Damage to the Rental Unit

What options are available to a landlord when a tenant causes damage to the rental property?  For damages beyond normal wear and tear, the landlord is entitled to charge the tenant for loss.  The tenant may also be subject to eviction for causing the property damage.  Here’s are some suggestions on how to approach and resolve the problem of a tenant’s negligent or intentional damage to your rental property.   

Thoroughly Document the Loss

The first step is to survey and document the cause and extent of the loss. A prudent first place to start is to access the rental to inspect it. You’ll need to give the tenant a 24 hour notice before entering the premises.  Document every instance of damage. Take photos and videos of the damage, making sure the images have a time and date stamp.  Obtain estimates on how much it will cost you to restore the unit to its original condition. Keep copies of the bids and subsequent invoices for your possible court case down the road.

Deduct From the Security Deposit

California law allows the landlord to use a tenant’s security deposit to repair damages beyond “normal wear and tear”.  No later than 21 calendar days after the tenant has vacated the rental unit, the landlord must provide the tenant with a copy of an itemized statement indicating the basis for, and the amount of any security received, and the disposition of the security. 

Evict The Tenant

When a tenant’s breach of a rental agreement covenant or condition legally constitutes or results in a waste of the premises, the landlord may terminate the tenancy with a 3-day notice to quit. CCP §1161(4); Freeze v Brinson (1991) 3 CA4th Supp 1, 3.  Thereafter, the landlord may initiate eviction proceedings against the tenant.   

If the damage to the unit does not rise to waste affecting market value the tenant should be given a chance to “cure” before proceeding with an eviction case in court.  .To justify not offering an opportunity to cure, the landlord must show that the tenant’s acts have substantially or permanently diminished the property’s market value as a whole. Damage to the unit without an impact on market value is not enough.

Small Claims Court

You may have to take a noncompliant tenant to small claims court for damages that exceed the security deposit. This entails filing a lawsuit seeking compensation for the cost of repairs of the damage.  Unfortunately, if the former tenants were having trouble paying rent in the first place, it is likely you won’t recover much or anything in the long run.

Contact Your Insurance Company

You should also contact your insurance company if the damage is extensive enough. You may be covered under certain conditions for some or all of the cost to repair damages.

Contact Law Enforcement

If the damage to your property is substantial and ongoing, you should report the tenant to the police.  If the damage is significant enough the police may consider it a criminal case and file charges.  In any event, contacting law enforcement will assist in documenting the loss since a police report will be generated by the incident. 

Lynx has handled thousands of property damage evictions over the last decade.  Please contact us if you need to complete such an eviction or if you have any questions regarding the above.  We can be reached at 888-441-2355 or  Our experienced professionals are standing by to take your order or answer any questions you may have. 

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