While having tenants living in a property will inevitably lead to some normal wear and tear on the unit, some tenants can be negligent and cause major damage to the property. While using a professional tenant screening service can decrease the odds of renting to irresponsible tenants, accidents can still happen. There are specific ways damage caused by a tenant should be documented in order to substantiate deductions from the security deposit or to be prepared in the event of a court trial.
Many states require a move-in inspection form be given to the tenant at the beginning of the rental term. The tenant may use this to document any existing property defects or damage, but this step also benefits the landlord in giving them a basis for comparison when the tenant moves out. Here are three key steps for documenting tenant property damage:
- Keep records. Landlords should keep an ongoing record of any damages or defects on each of their properties. The list can be updated as things are repaired or as new tenant property damage occurs.
- Move-in photos and videos. Visual documentation of the interior and exterior should be taken of each unit before the move-in of every new tenant. Make sure photos and videos are time-stamped to verify when they were taken.
- Move-out photos and videos. A second set of visual documentation should be taken when the unit is vacated. If the video option is used, it should ideally be one continuous video — not multiple segments. If instances of tenant property damage are observed, take a minimum of two (or more) still photos of each instance; for example, one from a short distance away, and one close-up.
Deductions from the Security Deposit for Tenant Property Damage
When it comes to substantiating additional costs to the tenant such as deductions from the security deposit or judgments in a court case, clear, indisputable evidence is key. While the above describes a bare minimum of documentation needed, landlords should keep in mind that these days, digital photos are all but free to take and easy to store on a computer.
The bottom line? It’s better to have more visual evidence than not enough, so consider taking at least twice the number of photos you think you would need to prove your case in any forum. You should also consider using a quality tenant screening service to help connect with the most responsible renters from the get-go.