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.
I 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”.
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?