How to sue a former tenant for damages


John: Hello, Tom. I own a house that I lease out. The tenants may have not kept the house and property in the standards required by the lease. I want to know what I can do to protect my investment and recover any losses beyond their deposit.

Attorney Tom Olsen: Are your tenants still in there?

John: Actually, they're not. 

Attorney Tom Olsen: So, your tenants are out, you've had an opportunity to go into the house, you have found that they've trashed it, you have a security deposit but that may not be enough to cover your damages. 

John: That's right.

Attorney Tom Olsen: John, your remedy is to sue them. Unfortunately, there is nothing else available to you. Does that answer your question?

John: The little more detail here. What should I do to verify? Should I have an independent inspector go in and take pictures and then get estimates, is that the best way to do that?

Attorney Tom Olsen: If you went to court to sue your former tenants for your damages, the burden approve would be on you, John. So first of all, there's a good chance that the tenants are not going to show up, you're going to get a follow-up judgment against them, the judge is going to take a quick look at your list of damages, and say, “John, that's fine. Here's a piece of paper that says they owe you x amount of dollars.” 

If your tenant did show up in court and now you have to prove your case, you cannot come in and say -- John, you cannot come in say, “Yes, they did damage to my air conditioner and it's going to cost $200 a fix. They did damage to my plumbing, it's going to cost 300 dollars a fix.” You're going to have to prove those damages, those amounts. 

So it starts by doing your small claims court, seeing if you can get it to follow-up judgment against your tenants, and otherwise be prepared to prove your case, John. 

Now, a real question might be, is how do you avoid getting these kind of tenants in your property in the future, John, and what I might recommend to you is, is to get a letter from the previous landlord or landlords, call their previous landlords, see what kind of tenants they were, and that's probably going to tell you a whole lot about whether or not you want to rent to them or not.