Tenant Damage vs. Wear and Tear => Case Study

Broken WindowTenant Damage vs. Wear and Tear or “The case of the Broken Window”

I just had an incident where one of my renters caused damage to another building I own.  I own 20 condominiums in a complex, it is high density housing.  Formerly a Class D neighborhood, which I was able to turn around.

Now that the neighborhood is safe to be outside in, the parents want to keep it that way.  They can bring their small children to the park, and not have to worry about fights or drug deals going on.  It is not to say that kids always behave, but if you keep on top of things, they do not get out of hand.

FenceI was doing some work to repair a fence (maybe another posting, another day), and my renter came out and showed me a broken window.  It is the window in his bedroom, and he just noticed it a day previously.  I saw immediately that it was broken from the outside, and was broken in two places.  This apartment sits about 50’ from a park, so I knew it was a kid that broke it.  Very likely on purpose, as it was broken in two places.

It just so happened that while I was working on the fence, another landlord was at the property doing a showing.  He stopped over, and as we were talking, he mentioned an email he received a couple of days previously.  His renter told him about a broken window and the kid that broke it.  I asked him to forward the email on.

The Initial Damage Report

The email went like this…

“Hi J, just went outside to break up a fight between S and another boy when they told me he threw rocks and broke a window. This is to the left of the patio doors off the park. This boy has been a nuisance to the complex, starting fights and destroying property. I thought the landlord would like to know.”

I was a bit miffed after reading this email, as not only was it my window broke, it was my tenant from another building that broke it.  And he was a nuisance tenant to the other kids.  When you have multifamily property, you need to make sure that one tenant does not run the others out of the neighborhood.  One bad tenant can spoil a neighborhood and cost a lot more in turnover than they are worth.

In this case, the kid, S, is about 10 years old.  Parents need to control their kids, or move.  If the kid is trouble, they can live in a place where all the kids are trouble.  I do not have kids of my own, but I expect parent to control their kids, or get rid of them.

To top it off, this is my renter that always pays rent a bit late.  I really do not tolerate this kind of behavior, so I texted and called my tenant and asked her to quiz her kid about the window.  Here response was a classic, “my kid does no wrong, do not blame me”.

The Denial

She sent me a text, “I didn’t let S outside Wednesday cause he was on punishment. They must got him mixed up with another boy.”

 When you ask a question accusing someone, you should already know the answer you expect.  In this case, the parent who sent the original email with who broke the window was a reliable source.  She had no reason to lie, or stretch the truth.  I already had a call in to her, and also to another parent who knew of the situation.  It was common knowledge by that time who threw the rocks.  All the little kids at the playground and bus stop knew who the ‘bad boy’ was.

Since the parent was denying it, I sent an email to the cops so that I could get this reported.  It would not be an insurance claim, as it was under the $5K deductible.  And I do not make small claims for things like this, as they affect your future insurance prices.  I just take the lumps, it is part of doing business.  I did want a police report for the family, and documented proof of who did the damage.

The cops told me to dial 911, as that is how all incidents are reported.  The county has a central Dispatch for both emergency and non-emergencies.  I always feel guilty about calling 911 for non-emergencies, but I always let them know as soon as they answer that is not an emergency.

At that time, I was fully planning on terminating this tenant’s lease.  She is on a month-to-month lease, so it would be easy.  I only wanted a police report to verify who did the damage, and that it would be well documented.  This may also initiate a police interview with the parents and kid, which might scare the kid straight.

I had the lease termination letter mentally prepared in my head, and was going to draft it the next day.  I would actually deliver it immediately after I collected some rent on the first of the month.  The letter would probably be met with disbelief, and some hassles from my tenant.  It would not be enjoyable, but necessary.

This tenant has lived in the complex for about 10 years, and has been living in my building since I purchased it.  It is an apartment that has not been remodeled, and commands minimal rent.  Renovating it would be a great way to increase my monthly revenue.

Landlord Tip: Collect as much rent as you can before giving tenants notices to move out.

The letter would have been a simple, one sentence letter.  “You lease is no longer being renewed.  Please remove all of your belongings by 6/30.”

That would give the family 60 days to find a place and move.  She would likely have to pay significantly more to live in the same school district, or be forced to a lesser area.

After another day, prior to me drafting the termination letter, I received this text from my tenant.

The Guilty Plea

“I looked the times when I talked with S and it was an hour unaccounted for. So I talked to A to see if she knows anything and she talked with T and he said it was S.

 So he had to snick out the house that hour. I apologize for him and let me know how much the window cost and I’ll pay for it….he is on punishment and he is barred from the park indefinitely. The only way he will be outside if Big S or I is out there with him. If someone sees him outside unsupervised please call me IMMEDIATELY!!!! If you have any questions please feel free to ask!”

 That should have been the appropriate response to my initial inquiry and would have eliminated the need for a police report.  It did let her off the hook, for now.  If he is a problem in the future, it will be a simple task to terminate the lease.

The entire window will have to be replaced, and if I hired it out would be $500+.  If I called a company to replace just the glass, it would likely be $250+, and they would advise me to replace the entire wood-framed window with a vinyl one, for $500.

I have already told my tenant it would be at least $200, so she will be prepared to pay the bill.  They are always late on the rent, so I am unsure how they will fit this in their budget.  It is not my concern.

Have you ever broken an item in your rental and denied it?  Have you ever suffered deliberate tenant damage?

Should I have handled this differently?  What would you have done?

18 Replies to “Tenant Damage vs. Wear and Tear => Case Study”

  1. I think you handled it well. Good thing she fessed up. How would you have handled this differently had they been in month 6 of a 12-mo lease and not month to month?

    1. Thank you!

      If it was a longer term lease, and the tenant did not admit the violation, I would have gotten the police report and billed the tenant. If she did not pay, I could evict. Or just wait out the lease and deduct from the deposit. Often, you can tell the tenant to leave, and they do.

      In the end, it’s often just better to ride out the lease, than evict. Cheaper and more sure than an eviction.

  2. I think you handled it well. I’m sure the kid denied it and it’s hard for a parent to automatically assume that they’re lying without proof, though there was obviously enough reason and history for this parent to continue to pursue it.

    They probably checked around and figured that they might be on thin ice especially if they were month to month.

    Glad it worked out and I hope they stay on the up and up.

  3. As a lawyer, I find these kinds of disputes very interesting. So you plan to make the mother of the child who threw the brick pay? Couldn’t tell at the end if you were making her pay or the tenant of the home with the broken window.

    1. Thank you for the comment!

      I will absolutely make the mother of the kid who threw the rock pay. I have already told her it would be over $200. I still need to measure the window to see the cost.

  4. As you’ve noted, the glass is definitely the responsibility of the parent. The vinyl upgrade portion of the window would be solely for the sake of the landlord, since it has nothing to do with the broken glass. Some landlords gouge tenants at every chance they get to “make up” for wrongs other tenants have done (or wear & tear).

    1. Thank you for the comment.

      I decided to charge $250 for the glass replacement, although I will actually replace the entire window. If I called a glass company, it would likely be $150+ for the service charge, plus another $100 for the glass. And, likely they would want to up-sell me to a new window, as the old one is a 30 year old wood frame window. Not very energy efficient.

      This is a sliding window, and the fixed pane is broken.

  5. Hey,
    Just found your blog and this is the first post I’ve read so far. I have to agree with you that I would absolutely make the tenant pay for the damages but I would also give them a rent termination lease letter. I’ve had the pleasure of co-managing over 20 multifamily homes in bad neighborhoods, subsidized government rents, I’ve always found that bad tenants (and their kids) will never change. There’s a certain level of respect that comes with being a landlord, if my tenants show no effort or awareness of such respect they are gone. ((I see she also admitted finally, but I’d still find a more profitable tenant after remodeling the apt.))
    Nice to meet you,
    -Rich (27)

    1. Thank you for the comment and great advice.

      I was 100% ready to terminate the lease. She is on a M2M lease, so it would be easy. I do fully expect additional issues the future, but I will at least have given her a chance. And she will pay a $250 penalty now. I am working on another turn now, and have a couple more coming up, so it makes sense to wait for that too.

      If I would have already been retired, it may have been a different story… Sometimes you not only have to pick your battles, but the timing of them too.

  6. I think you handled the situation well so that they know not only the seriousness of the situation, but also that they can’t mess around with you

  7. I would have given that kid a beating. No witnesses though. There isn’t a child alive who wouldn’t understand what getting the belt means. The only thing with hitting a child is, to be careful not to leave marks that can not be easily explained away by saying the kid fell off his pogo stick or something believable like that.

    1. we don’t know WHY the kid is behaving this way. Chances are, that’s all he knows. Beatings, that is. Guilty or not. Empathy, TALKING, positive attention would be nice- the kid is TEN, for heaven’s sake. At that age they like to cuddle,still..ask tons of questions.Laugh until they cry, play and love everyone around them. Do you remember when you were ten?? I do. That kid doesn’t have it easy. A beating isn’t going to change that- it’s going to manifest negativity, manifest anger and the feeling of being unloved. He needs help. Not beatings. He’s TEN.

  8. interesting story..interesting replies.
    I’ve noticed how cold and selfrighteous the story and the replies sound.
    The kid is 10. TEN. Not a raging juvenile,. not a raging juvenile delinquent. Get the mom in touch with “Big Brothers”, the community church. From the sound of it, his life isn’t all peaches and roses, either. Single mom, no dad, lots of survival stress. Panic to be able to buy food, pay electricity, phone, clothes for the ever growing child. (Wait- before you say “not MY problem”, breathe, be human for a moment- remember” she ALWAYS pays the rent”-even if a little late) . The place that they’ve been renting for- how long, did you say? 10 years? Since the boy was born,then- so, this place that is yours, that you have been renting to them for 10years, as long as that boy has been on this earth, might just be the ONLY safe, reliable thing, the only stable anchor place that boy has- and has had- in his short life. ( and you DID say “She ALWAYS pays rent”—even if a little late)..She sounds like a responsible, wonderful person, the letter she wrote looks great and commands my respect, as much as her taking responsibility for the window. How old is that window, you said? The wooden frame is in need of replacement? So, it’s pretty old and weathered.
    NO tenant enjoys paying rent late.
    And you state “always a LITTLE late” …how about looking at it like this: ” she ALWAYS pays rent – even if a little late”.
    You might never have been in a situation where money was so tight that it meant having to choose between feeding your child or paying for electricity or other essentials. Jobs don’t pay on the 29th,usually, so the check has to be cashed or needs to clear before the funds can change hands to pay the bills and rent. It sounds to me that this tenant has no other option but to be ‘a bit late” paying the rent- but she pays. Always. That’s what you said.
    Terminating her lease, would have devastating effects and consequences- moving costs a LOT of money,especially if you lack it- rent the truck, get boxes, dollies, manpower, gas, first, last, security-what if you don’t HAVE all that? The rent might be higher,you said . Are you prepared to return the security amount to her? You state “but I expect parent to control their kids, or get rid of them.”— ‘get rid of them”? Like some people ‘get rid of’ dogs when they stop being cute? Life doesn’t work that way. It definitely shouldn’t..
    And you ‘get rid of’ tenants when they don’t function according to your strict rules.
    The $250 you demand from her for the broken window- are they for the repair of the window or a “Penalty’ ,as you state? You are legally and ethically not entitled to ‘penalties’. You can also, by law, not have her pay for the decrepit wood frame replacement, but for the glass only- and, honestly, the window glass would have to be replaced with the new frame-type you want, anyway, no? So, why do you burden her with the cost? Ego ? Because you’re right and the kid, hence she, was wrong?
    She has been a good tenant (she ALWAYS pays, even if a bit late”) for a good many years, which has SAVED YOU money for painting the place, cleaning carpets, replacing faucets, probable holes in the wall and floors (this IS the USA), broken fridges and stoves, toilets, plumbing, new locks, waiting at least 2 weeks for a new renter, without getting paid rent, every time the renter changes. which would be, in those 10 years, between 5 to 20+ times, depending.
    I can see asking for half, going 50/50 on the glass, telling her it’ll be OK for $125, BUT: she needs to seek help for her boy’s behavior difficulty (don’t call it a ‘problem”, yet— he’s TEN ) through the church, school, Big Brothers and other non profit help organizations.
    Be a “MENSCH”.
    Life is short.
    Don’t make it harder on others just because you’re ‘right’ or you ‘can’.
    The New Year is beginning.
    Make it a GOOD one.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      Unfortunately, your response is typical of the entitlement crowd. No personal responsibility is ever admitted, and it is never your own fault.

      It is not my job to be a social worker. My job is to collect rents, and provide appropriate housing in decent repair.

      I was not intending on terminating the lease, but when the mother initially denied it was her son that broke the window, that was it. Personal responsibility is the key here. She eventually found out it was actually her son, and apologized. That is the right thing to do. That is what saved her tenancy.

      Regardless of when someone gets paid, rent is due “Midnight prior to the first of the month”. From there, it is a matter of budgeting. My mortgage is the same way. I do not get a waiver from the bank because my tenants do not pay on time.

      Parents should indeed control their kids. And there are plenty of foster homes, adoption clinics, etc. that a kid can be dropped off at when you can no longer afford to control or supervise them. I do not need feral kids in my rentals. The problem in today’s society is that kids go unsupervised, and commit all sorts of crimes, only to have their criminal record washed cleat at 18 years of age.

      If a parent was held as an accomplice to the major crimes their dependent children committed, and the parent went to jail too, the parent(s) would be a lot more responsible with their children. If you cannot raise a kid properly, do not have them, or do not keep them.

      The window was perfectly fine before the glass broke. I charged her what I would have been charged to replace the glass if I hired a company. If I hired a company for a new window, it would have easily been double that. Even with my ’free’ labor, it cost about $250 for the materials and new window. I passed that cost back to the tenant, as I should.
      Since that incident, there have been no issues. She understands that I take things seriously, and the kid does too.

Leave a Reply