Requiring a security deposit equaling one monthly payment is a great policy. Assuming your tenant’s background check reflects a clean rental history, this amount will typically cover any damages to your rental property. But in some cases, that security deposit may fall far short of covering the damages to your rental property.
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Should You Sue Your Tenants?
Let’s say your tenant caused substantial damages to your property. The damages are enough that you could potentially recover a judgment for tens of thousands of dollars. So, it makes sense to sue, right? Not necessarily…. There are several things you need to consider before pulling the trigger on a lawsuit against your tenant for damages to your rental property. You can read more about this topic by reading my blog Should I Sue My Tenant?
How to Increase Your Odds of a High Recovery
Before we tackle this topic, let’s first get on the same page about what a “high recovery” for damages to your rental property means. By “high recovery,” I mean you get a judgment for most of the damages you requested from the court AND you successfully collect on most of those damages.
Landlords who recover the most nearly always have three things in common: 1) they have a well-developed legal strategy; 2) they’re well prepared; and 3) they’re open to settlement agreements.
Notice I say “most” but not “all.” Is this attorney double-speak? No, my friend…. This is simply an effect of basic legal strategy. We need to push the envelope on what we ask for in damages in these cases. There are the damages for which we have a high probability of recovery, and then there are the damages for which we are wading into the murky, grey areas of the law. We naturally want to ask for most damages possible under the law. But we also don’t want to go overboard. We don’t want to look ridiculous to the Judge.
Of course, that threshold of looking ridiculous can vary from one Judge to another. This is where it is important to work with a law firm that is familiar with the preferences of each Court. Girling Law has handled hundreds of landlord cases. Our experience means the legal strategy we develop for your case will include a well-reasoned analysis of how your Judge will respond to your case.
How to Be Well Prepared for a Lawsuit Involving Damages to Your Rental Property
Success with one of these lawsuits can have much to do with the document trail you have maintained on your tenant. You will enjoy the most success with litigation involving damages to your rental property if you have the following:
- Written lease agreement;
- Communications from the tenant regarding the tenant vacating or about the condition of the property;
- Proof that you sent your tenant a move-in condition form;
- A completed move-in condition form;
- Pictures of each room, appliance, sinks and commodes, windows, yard, and all sides of exterior;
- A completed move-out condition form (you can complete this, if your tenant did not);
- Pictures for each item for which you are seeking recovery;
- A journal describing the days and hours you worked, and the work completed;
- Receipts proving your paid for materials or services (estimates cannot be used).
Having this entire list is not necessary. However, the more of these you have, the better your chances of recovery.
Why Settlement Agreements Can Be a Good Thing
I know. You’re angry at your tenant. What you really want is for me to call your tenant as a witness at trial and make him cry in the presence of the Judge and Jury. You want to see a tearful admission that he is a selfish, entitled slob who is entirely responsible for the damages to your rental property. That kind of thing makes for great TV, but this just isn’t the way it goes down in real life. More importantly, this is not your objective (at least, it shouldn’t be).
Your REAL objective, of course, is money. You own an investment property, not an emotional-satisfaction property.
If you are making an educated decision to sue your tenant, you appreciate that this litigation is a calculated risk. While there is a low risk that you will obtain some kind of judgment, there is a substantially higher risk you may not collect on that judgment in the short term. There is even a risk you may recover no portion of that judgment. Therefore, it is so important to embrace the idea of accepting a settlement from your tenant. Settlements stage a guaranteed recovery of at least some portion of your damages.
But Am I Just Throwing Good Money After Bad by Hiring an Attorney?
Not if you hire Girling Law. Here’s why:
We don’t want to build client relationships with landlords who will only end up dissatisfied with the results of our efforts. The success of our firm’s business model requires repeat business and referrals from our past and existing clients. It does us little good to do smash-and-grab litigation, leaving a bunch of unhappy landlords with dismissals or uncollectable judgments in our wake. Our niche practice involves a very small portion of the Texas population: Texas residential real estate investors. Reputation is very important to us.
Because of this, we will advise you on whether we believe you should proceed on a lawsuit involving damages to your rental property. You should be prepared that having us politely decline representation is a possible outcome. In fact, it happens on a regular basis with these cases. We will not take your money if your case involves a low probability of recovering a judgment or collection. The good news is that obtaining this opinion from us involves no investment on your part. Our initial consultations are always free.
Will Girling Law Sue My Tenant on a Contingency Basis?
No. When you hire Girling Law, you will pay a retainer. We will then bill against this retainer. We make no exceptions to this billing method.
Potential clients sometimes wonder if this reflects our lack of confidence in their case. That is not the case. Instead, we insist on retainers for two reasons. One reason is that your attorney fees can be recovered against your tenant as money damages in your lawsuit because you have a written lease agreement with your tenant (we do not accept these cases when there is a verbal lease agreement). Another reason is the dollar amounts are just too low. The economics of these cases simply does not support a contingency agreement.
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