Identify Tenant-Caused Damage. Separating Fact From Fiction!

Posted on | Maintenance, Property Management Blog

Damage Meme

One of the most common questions that I hear from owners, happens when we get a request for repair from their tenant, “was this a tenant-caused repair?”  In some cases, the answer is yes!  That being said, tenant-caused damage is rare – like a double rainbow or a white rhino.  It’s not quite unicorn status, but it’s close.  Don’t think I’m crazy…yet.  

Absolutely tenants cause repairs all the time – kind of 

The truth is, tenants are living in your home and any repairs at the home are ABSOLUTELY a direct result of that.  If it was vacant, you wouldn’t have work orders, but you also wouldn’t have rent.  They are running the systems in your home at full capacity every single day. 

Some tenants may be harder on your home than you were, and some of them gentler.  It’s hard to know everything going on at the home without living in there with them – and no, that isn’t an option.  We operate with the mentality of giving the benefit of the doubt.

You are probably wondering – What do they look for when they suspect there may have been some abuse on a system???

#1  Proof 

Perhaps Denzel Washington said it best, “It’s Not What You Know, It’s What You Can Prove…”   If I don’t have proof, I can’t bill your tenant.  What I can do, is be on alert should it happen again. I use logic to determine if there is an obvious path to prove reasonably that your tenant without-a-doubt caused a repair need.  If your tenant has been utilizing the system in question for a while without incident, they probably didn’t have a user-error issue. 

If the home is well-kept otherwise, they probably take good care of the item needing repair too.  If the system is old, it can be presumed that it’s nearing its natural death and repairs are to be expected.  Another thing to remember, is that an obvious tenant-caused issue is likely not going to be called in.  If I broke something in a rental home, I would attempt to repair it myself and no one would ever know.

#2 Evidence

Short of obvious proof, it becomes a hotly debated issue in most cases and it makes your accused tenant angry.  It’s a debate that I can’t win, because I wasn’t there and I can’t prove it without evidence. If you have a great tenant otherwise, I’m not going to ruin an importnant relationship to avoid a repair, especially knowing that it isn’t something I can prove.  I haven’t met an owner yet willing to go to court or file eviction over a repair that may be tenant caused, but can’t be proven. 

If my vendor finds evidence, we have them take a photo right away!!   Evidence is all we need, unfortunately, it’s rare. Maybe there is a hot wheel car in the drain, but sadly when the plumber snaked, the drain, it drifted down the sewer line and I/you will never know. 

Alienating a good tenant with accusations isn’t a good way to do business and it’s likely that they won’t want to stay at the home once the lease is up and THAT is more costly than a simple repair.

#3 Vendor statement 

The vendors we choose; we know them and they know us, but most importantly they are experts in their fields or we wouldn’t use their services.  They are more than happy to share their knowledge on their findings – in fact, sometimes they bore us with the details.  They know what repairs are caused by, and if they think it’s tenant-caused, they will alert us. 

We ask them to write it up in the invoice when they see tenant-caused damage.  If they aren’t convinced that it was negligence, then I have to go with what the expert we hired says or doesn’t say.

#4 Tenant Admission

They did it, they know they did it and they are even going to tell us how they did it.  Here is the aforementioned white rhino. It happens, but it’s rare.   This is the best case scenario and with it, we are able to easily charge them for your repair.

Remember, tenants are LIVING in your home.

Your tenants are turning things on and off all the time.  They drop things, turn levers, buttons, switches, adjusting the valves, opening/closing doors and so on.  And guess what?  So are their guests!!!   They are allowed to cause reasonable wear and tear on the home and they pay a fair rent to live in the home. 

Virginia law dictates what is considered “reasonable” wear and tear in our state and what we can charge for.   That being said if my plumber pulls out a wash cloth in the drain line that matches the guest bathroom set on the wall in the bathroom he is working in, you bet your knickers I’m going to bill your tenant for you. I’m also going to notate the file to be on the lookout for tenant-caused damage.

Please know, if we procured you a tenant with great references and they keep your house immaculate and the rent is always paid on time, we will reasonably assume short of proof (think white rhino) they are just living at the home as you probably did back in the day.  Ultimately the care of the home always falls to the owner and in almost every case, it should.

Mary – PROperty Manager for Stephanie Clark Property Management

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