In an ideal world, tenants would pay their landlords on time. They’d abide by the rules and treat the property as if it were their own. Unfortunately, not all tenants are like that, and small concerns eventually turn into serious conflicts. In some cases, tenants can be too difficult that disputes end up in court.
When can a landlord sue a tenant?
Sometimes, conflicts can’t be settled amicably. That’s when landlords trust the court to settle their tenant-related issues for them. Here are some examples of when a landlord can take a tenant to court:
#1 To recover unpaid rent
Tenants are obligated to pay their rent at the mutually agreed-upon schedule. If the tenant fails to pay their rent, the landlord typically sends them a late rent notice. If the tenant ignores this, the landlord can evict the tenant and sue them for their unpaid rent.
#2 To settle property damage
If the tenant’s security deposit isn’t enough to cover the damage that they caused, the landlord can require the tenant to pay out-of-pocket. If they refuse, the landlord can sue the tenant. It’s important to note that tenants are obligated to return the property to its original condition at the end of the lease. If they refuse to pay for tenant-related repairs, they can end up in court.
#3 To recover lost rental income
Tenants can’t leave without notice. That would be considered illegal. If the tenant moves out before the end of their lease, and they fail to inform the landlord, their landlord can sue them for lost rental income. If the landlord wins — which is usually the case — the tenant will be required to pay the landlord for the remainder of their lease.
#4 To recover costs in finding a new tenant
Aside from the remaining rent, the tenant can be sued for the costs that the landlord incurred in finding a new tenant. This, however, varies by state. Some states don’t allow landlords to sue for the expenses related to finding a replacement tenant. You can ask your property manager to check.
#5 To sue for damages due to pet ownership
If your single-family home has a no-pets policy but your tenant secretly brings an animal, you can sue them for breaching their contract. In addition, you can sue them for additional damage that their pet has caused to the property (e.g. chewed-on couches and soiled carpets).
Renting to pet owners comes with risks, but the rewards often outweigh them. You can read our guide on renting to tenants with pets. Remember, when renting to pet-owning tenants, you should always enlist the services of a property management company to conduct a pet screening.
How can you avoid landlord-tenant lawsuits?
Lawsuits can be long and expensive, so you should steer clear of taking your tenants to court. Here are some effective strategies to avoid landlord-tenant lawsuits:
#1 Screen your tenants
The most effective way to ensure that you don’t end up in court is to screen your tenants. It may be tempting to lease your home to the first tenant you find, but it’s crucial to conduct background checks. The screening process can be time-consuming and complicated, especially with the Fair Housing Act, so you may want to hire a property manager. He/she can ask critical questions and ensure that everyone is given an equal opportunity.
By screening your tenants, you can ensure that you end up with responsible renters who’ll pay on time, respect your property, and more. That way, you won’t have to sue them to make them pay up!
#2 Stay on top of repairs
Tenants usually sue their landlords for their failure to repair the property. For instance, if there’s an issue with the heating system, the landlord should address it immediately. If not, the tenant may sue their landlord — and cases like this usually end with the landlord losing.
That’s why it’s so important to stay on top of repairs. If you’re aware that your rental requires repairs and you do nothing about it, you may be liable for damages. If you have too much on your plate, consider hiring a property management company.
#3 Encourage communication
You won’t be at your rental property at all times. So, how else will you be able to keep an eye on your property? The answer: through your tenants.
Your tenants should feel comfortable expressing their concerns to you. For instance, if they notice leaks after a flood, they should inform you as soon as possible so that you can take action. If they hesitate to talk to you, these issues will turn into serious problems. A leak that isn’t treated could cause mold, resulting in respiratory issues.
What should landlords do when they are sued?
If your tenant does end up suing you, you’ll need to defend yourself. Here are some helpful tips:
#1 Refer to your rental records
Do not throw away your rental records. You should always store documents such as lease agreements, inspection reports, repair requests, and so on. Additionally, you should have copies of communications you have with tenants, such as emails and text messages. These will support your claim in case a tenant takes you to court. For instance, if a tenant claims that you didn’t conduct repairs, you can present copies of repair receipts as proof.
#2 Hire an experienced attorney
You shouldn’t hire any attorney. You should hire an attorney with expertise and experience in real estate. In addition, choose an attorney with local experience, as laws differ by county and by state. If your rental is being managed by a property management firm, you can check if they have in-house counsel that can represent you in court.
#3 Don’t be hostile
Even if your tenant is suing you for frivolous reasons, you should continue to be civil. Stay calm despite the unnecessary comments that your tenant may throw at you. Don’t worry — your attorney will be beside you to stop you from saying things that could make settlement impossible.
Landlord-tenant conflicts are inevitable, but in case they escalate into lawsuits, you’ll need to be prepared. At Luxury Property Care, we have a team of in-house attorneys who will represent you in case your tenant takes you to court. To avoid that in the first place, we conduct thorough tenant screenings to ensure that the perfect residents live on your property. You will also be assigned to a dedicated property manager who’ll deal with repairs, inspections, etc. so that your tenants will have no reason to sue.