If you own a rental property but had a tenant trash it when they leave then make sure you read this article because we’re addressing the all-too-common problem that landlords have when they say, “Help! My last tenant trashed my Atlanta house!”
Do you own a rental property? Did you have a tenant leave it in less-than-perfect condition? It happens! In fact, it’s an experience that probably every landlord has faced at least once. If you looked at your empty rental property and said, “Help! My tenant trashed my Atlanta house” then here are some things you can do about it…
Is it worth going after the tenant?
You need to first assess the damage and decide if it’s worth going after the tenant. Unfortunately, it often isn’t worth the hassle because it may be a time consuming and even expensive effort to get the tenant to pay you back. However, if the damage is significant enough, you may choose to do this.
Keep in mind that most tenants aren’t going to have the extra capital it requires to repair the property that they damaged. Going after them to get your money back is most likely just going to result in you wasting more of your hard earned money. We always go ahead and file a claim against the tenant for the property damages. It’s relatively cheap and it’ll create a record for other landlords to see as a red flag.
If you have a money judgment (hopefully) from your eviction, you can now collect by garnishment if you know where they work. If not, you can garnish the Georgia tax refund, but can only file those papers between November 1 and December 31. Georgia law limits the amount that a creditor can garnish (take) from your wages to repay a debt. Georgia wage garnishment laws follow federal law. Creditors with money judgments can take up to 25% of your disposable income.
What is the tenant responsible for?
A tenant can no longer be charged – or have any money deducted from their security deposit – for damage that would have inevitably occurred as a result of the property being inhabited. For example, if the walls of a property appear to be lightly scuffed at the end of a tenancy, the landlord could not reasonably accuse the tenant of causing the damage – minor marks such as these are to be expected in a property that’s been lived in.
Genuine damage is typically considered to be destruction which could have been avoided, and is more than just a result of use – for instance a burn in the carpet or a broken table. The tenancy agreement you signed should contain a clause concerning the allowance of fair wear and tear. It could be worded similarly to this:
How to document what the tenant trashed.
At the beginning of each tenancy, you should take an inventory of the property – along with photographic evidence of its condition – before the tenant moves in. The inventory should include all walls, carpeted areas and any furnishings – for example furniture and appliances. Make it clear that, by signing the tenancy agreement, the tenant is acknowledging the current condition of the property, and agrees to maintain this state until the tenancy terminates.
To minimize the risk of lengthy dispute processes, make sure your tenancy agreement clearly states the consequences of causing damage to the property – and that your communication channel with your tenant stays as open as possible.
Finally, you should always keep evidence of any communication regarding damages for instances where a claim needs to be made against your landlord insurance policy, or a dispute is escalated to litigation. Nothing is more frustrating than knowing your tenant damaged the property, but you can’t prove it wasn’t like that before the tenant moved in. Always take pictures and videos and let them see you doing it before you move them into the unit.
Is it worth repairing the damage?
From holes in the walls to missing toilets – we’ve heard of just about everything you can imagine! Sometimes a bit of drywall and paint will fix the problem, in which case you may want to fix it up and rent it out again, and then just accept the inconvenience as the cost of doing business. However, if the damage is not worth repairing yourself then you might be interested in a couple of other options:
You could rent your house to a handyman
One little-known option that is actually really helpful is to find a handyman who wants to rent the house. In exchange for a discount on rent (or even free rent) they can fix up the house for you to make it a nice rental property again. Make sure you have a timeline all spelled out, though, to avoid then staying too long without a lot of work getting done. Also, don’t just have a verbal agreement. The last thing you want is to have someone living in the property for free without doing any improvements to it.
It would be safe to visit a lawyer to write up an agreement with this situation. You will want to have a legal document stating what work needs to be done, when it needs to be done, how it needs to be done and who is responsible for all materials and labor costs. You can’t just assume that they are going to take responsibility for all of this on their own. You need to lay out what’s expected of them. Remember, you are helping them with a reduction in living expenses. It’s a win win situation to have a handyman live in and fix your property.
You could sell the house
Another option is to sell the house and move on from owning a frustrating rental property. However, be aware that if you try to sell the house on the open market, you may have to fix it up first in order for the agent to list it. Even ignoring the expensive repairs, you’re going to have the holding costs of utilities, mortgage, and taxes while you wait 6+ months to sell the property through an agent. Another option is to sell privately to a house-buying team like ours. (We buy houses in as-is condition in Georgia and we’ll fix them up ourselves).