What are Landlord Rights When A Tenant Destroys Property?

25 May, 7:21 am

As a landlord, managing a rental property can be an exciting venture and a valuable investment. However, the unfortunate reality is that not all tenant experiences are smooth sailing. 

One of the most challenging situations landlords may face is dealing with a tenant who is causing significant damage to their property. This destructive behavior can have a profound impact on landlords, both emotionally and financially.

Tenant damages are not merely a matter of inconvenience. It represents a direct threat to the landlord’s investment and can result in substantial repair costs, potential loss of rental income, and a strain on resources. 

It is crucial to recognize the difficulties that landlords face when navigating these situations and understand the importance of their rights in resolving the issues caused by a destructive tenant.

In this article, we will explore the rights and options available to landlords when faced with a tenant destroying property.

Furthermore, we will explore preventative measures landlords can take to reduce the risk of tenant property damage and the need to deal with these matters firsthand. 

Types of Tenant Property Damage


When it comes to tenant property damage, it can encompass a wide range of situations. Understanding the types of damage you may encounter will help you effectively address them. 

Here are some common scenarios:

Negligence: Tenant negligence refers to situations where the tenant fails to exercise reasonable care, leading to property damage. This can include accidents, mishandling of appliances, or improper maintenance. For example, a tenant causing water damage by failing to report or fix a leak.

Intentional Damage: In some unfortunate cases, tenants may intentionally cause damage to the rental property. These instances can include vandalism, willful destruction, or alterations without consent. Examples could be a tenant intentionally damaging walls or fixtures out of frustration or anger.

Unauthorized Alterations: Tenants may make alterations to the property without obtaining prior permission from the landlord. These alterations could range from painting walls to major renovations, potentially resulting in damage or diminishing the property’s value. 

For instance, a tenant installing fixtures without approval, which leads to electrical or structural issues.


assessment of property damage in LA by landlord

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Graffiti and Property Defacement: Destructive tenants may engage in graffiti or deface the property’s interior or exterior walls. This can include spray-painted graffiti, scratching surfaces, or intentionally damaging fixtures or finishes. 

Graffiti and property defacement not only diminish the property’s aesthetic appeal but can also lead to costly repairs or professional cleaning services to restore the property to its original condition.

Flooring Damage: Destructive tenants may cause damage to the flooring of a rental property. This can involve excessive staining, burns, or intentional destruction, such as cutting or gouging the flooring materials. 

Repairing or replacing damaged flooring can be a significant expense for landlords, especially if the damage extends to a large area or affects expensive materials like hardwood or tiles.

Appliance and Fixture Abuse: Destructive tenants may misuse or abuse appliances and fixtures, leading to damage. This can include deliberately breaking or damaging appliances like stoves, refrigerators, or HVAC systems. 

Additionally, tenants may cause damage to fixtures such as sinks, toilets, or light fixtures through negligence or intentional acts. Repairing or replacing these items can be costly for landlords, affecting the functionality and value of the rental property.

Structural Damage: Destructive tenants can cause significant structural damage to a rental property. This can include removing load-bearing walls without permission, damaging the foundation, compromising structural integrity, or altering the property’s layout without proper authorization. 

Structural damage can be extensive and require costly repairs to ensure the safety and stability of the building.

Landscaping and Outdoor Area Destruction: Destructive tenants may not only cause damage inside the property but also to the outdoor areas and landscaping. This can involve intentionally destroying garden features, damaging fences, neglecting lawn maintenance, or removing plants without consent. 

Repairing or restoring outdoor areas can be time-consuming and expensive, impacting the property’s curb appeal and overall value.


legal recourse for landlord with destroyed property

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Understanding Landlord Rights in California


As a landlord in California, it is crucial to have a firm understanding of the state’s property laws and regulations. Familiarizing yourself with these laws will help protect your rights and ensure compliance with legal obligations. 

California has specific statutes governing landlord-tenant relationships, including regulations regarding security deposits, repairs, and tenant responsibilities. Knowing these laws will empower you to make informed decisions and take appropriate action when tenant property damage occurs.

In addition to state laws, organizations like the AAGLA provide comprehensive guidelines and resources for landlords. The AAGLA offers valuable information on topics such as landlord rights, tenant screenings, lease agreements, and property maintenance. By referring to these resources, landlords can stay up-to-date with industry standards and best practice.

Familiarize yourself with California’s eviction laws, adhering to the proper legal procedures if the tenant’s destructive behavior persists and poses a significant threat to the property or other tenants’ safety. Consult with legal professionals to ensure compliance with eviction regulations.


Preventative Measures for Landlords


As a landlord, you do not have to feel that you are relying on the integrity of the tenant to secure and maintain the rental property. There are things you can do to empower and prevent, as far as possible, dealing with the negative effects of property destruction.   By putting these measures in place you can greatly reduce the risks.


– Thorough Tenant Screenings 

Conduct comprehensive tenant screenings to ensure you select responsible and reliable individuals. 

This process typically includes background checks, credit checks, and contacting previous landlords for references. Thorough tenant screenings, such as those done by Lotus West Properties,  can help identify potential red flags and minimize the risk of leasing to tenants with a history of property damage or negligence.


– Maintain Detailed Move-In/Move-Out Inspections 

Conduct thorough move-in and move-out inspections using a checklist, documenting the condition of the property and any pre-existing damage. This will serve as crucial evidence in determining the extent of tenant-caused damage.


– Clear Lease Agreements

Probably the most effective deterrent to property mistreatment is a clear and detailed lease agreement is essential. The lease agreement should include provisions related to property maintenance, repairs, and potential consequences for property damage. 

Clearly outline the tenant’s responsibilities regarding the upkeep of the property, reporting damages promptly, and seeking landlord approval for any alterations or modifications. 

A comprehensive lease agreement sets clear expectations and helps prevent misunderstandings.


regular inspections for damage to property

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– Regular Property Inspections

Schedule regular inspections of the rental property to identify any maintenance issues or potential damages. Conduct these inspections according to the terms specified in the lease agreement and give tenants sufficient notice. 

Respond promptly to repair requests from tenants to prevent minor issues from escalating into significant damages. California law requires landlords to maintain the habitability of rental units and make necessary repairs within a reasonable timeframe.

Regular property inspections allow you to detect and address maintenance concerns before they escalate into significant property damage issues. Document the condition of the property during inspections, including photographs or detailed inspection reports.


– Maintain Open Communication

Establish open lines of communication with tenants to encourage reporting of maintenance issues and address concerns promptly. Clear communication can help mitigate potential property damage and foster a positive landlord-tenant relationship.


– Document Repairs and Expenses

Keep detailed records of repair work, including invoices, receipts, and any communication related to repairs caused by tenant damage. This documentation will be essential for any potential legal proceedings or insurance claims.


Other Remedies for Landlords


remedies for landlords dealing with property damage

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– Legal Recourse

In some cases, relying solely on the security deposit may not cover the full extent of the damages. In such situations, landlords can explore legal avenues to seek further financial reimbursement. Here are two common options:

  • Small Claims Court: If the repair costs exceed the security deposit, landlords can consider filing a lawsuit in small claims court. Small claims court is designed for relatively straightforward cases and allows landlords to pursue compensation for damages. Familiarize yourself with the small claims court process, including the filing procedures and monetary limits applicable to your jurisdiction.
  • Arbitration: Arbitration is another alternative for resolving disputes related to tenant property damage. It involves both parties presenting their case to an impartial third party who will make a binding decision. Arbitration can be a quicker and more cost-effective option compared to traditional litigation. Some lease agreements may include clauses requiring arbitration for dispute resolution.

When pursuing legal recourse, it is advisable to consult with a qualified attorney specializing in landlord-tenant law. They can provide guidance on the best course of action based on the specific circumstances and help navigate the complexities of the legal process.


– Insurance Coverage

Landlord insurance is a valuable resource that can provide protection against tenant property damage. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Review Insurance Policies: It is crucial for landlords to review their insurance policies to understand the extent of coverage provided for property damage caused by tenants. Different policies may offer varying levels of protection, so carefully examine the terms and conditions. Ensure that your insurance policy covers tenant-inflicted damages and familiarize yourself with any exclusions or limitations.
  • Notify Insurance Company: In the event of tenant property damage, promptly notify your insurance company and provide them with all relevant documentation and evidence. They will guide you through the claims process and help determine the coverage applicable to the situation. Cooperate fully with the insurance company’s requirements and provide any additional information or documentation they may request. A police report will need to be provided by the landlord.


– Security Deposits

Deducting Repair Costs: California law allows landlords to get a financial repayment for repairs from the tenant’s security deposit, specifically for damage

  • beyond normal wear and tear. However, deducting these costs must adhere to legal requirements. It is important to differentiate between actual damage and normal wear and tear.
  • Itemized Statement: Within a specified timeframe (usually 21 days), landlords must provide tenants with an itemized statement detailing the damages and repairs. This statement should include the cost breakdown for each item, ensuring transparency and compliance. Providing a detailed itemized statement helps demonstrate to the tenant the reasons for withholding a portion of the security deposit.


– Use a professional property management company

Property management companies can provide comprehensive support, from tenant screenings to property inspections, lease agreement enforcement, and swift resolution of tenant-caused damages, relieving landlords of the associated burdens and legal intricacies.

We have over 500 properties that we manage in Los Angeles and surround areas.  A dedicated property manager will assist you with matters related property damage, tenant moves and eviction notices.


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Immediate Actions When Damage is Discovered


Discovering tenant property damage requires landlords to take swift and appropriate action. Here are the first actions that can be taken by landlords.  This will go a long way to proving that remedies were put in place to correct the issues or behavior of the tenant before eviction.

  • Document the Damage: Begin by documenting the damage thoroughly. Take photographs or videos, noting the extent of the damage and specific items affected. These records will serve as crucial evidence throughout the resolution process. Detailed documentation can support your claims and help demonstrate the severity of the damage caused by the tenant.
  • Notify the Tenant: It is crucial to inform the tenant promptly about the damage. Maintain clear and concise communication, explaining the situation and the potential consequences. Provide a deadline for the tenant to respond or address the issue. Written communication, such as an email or letter, ensures that there is a documented record of the notification.
  • Assess Financial Impact: Evaluate the financial impact of the property damage, including repair costs, potential loss of rental income, or any additional expenses incurred as a result. This assessment will help you determine the appropriate course of action. Obtain repair estimates from reliable contractors to accurately determine the extent of the financial impact.


Last Resort: Eviction options for landlords


It’s the option that no landlord wants to take, but sometimes it is necessary for the sake of your investment and your well-being to follow eviction procedures. 

The primary goal, once you decide to take this route is to do it by the book.  If not, the tenant could have cause to counter-claim due to lack of due diligence and you may end up losing more money. 

By law, here are some things that you may not do, that would constitute an illegal eviction:

  • Change the locks without notifying the tenant
  • Cutting off basic resources, such as electricity and water
  • Looking for a new tenant for the property before the current tenant has been evicted
  • Any actions that might be considered ‘hostile’ to the living conditions of the tenant such as making threats or moving the tenants property out of the rental by force.

The first step is to speak to the tenant about moving out and communicate your frustrations and their neglect of the property.  Look for a win-win solution.  If none can be found and the tenant will not leave the property, you will have to file an eviction notice. 

For further reading on problem tenants, we have this free resource


Concerned landlord about property damage to rental property

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Final Thoughts on Property Destruction


Dealing with property destruction is a stressful and demotivating time for a landlord or property owner.  

The reasons for having an investment property never extend to tenants who negligently destroy the property.  However, this is a part of owning a rental property that cannot be excluded. 

Hopefully, landlords do not ever have to deal with this matter, but we have provided advice and tips on how you can navigate this difficult situation.  In this article, we provided a checklist for dealing with the destruction of property as well as options available to you such as taking legal action and eviction.

The main thing to remember is to remain calm and not take any rash actions that could cause you, the landlord, to have to pay for damages or make restitution to the tenant for an illegal eviction.  A cool head is the only option to successfully deal with property destruction.

Property Management Services such as those provided by Lotus West Properties in Los Angeles, Culver City, and Marina del Rey provide you with professional assistance when you are dealing with difficult tenants.  In many cases, the services we provide will prevent the destruction of property by tenants.  You can read all about our services here.

Disclaimer:  All advice given in this article applies to the general rules and regulations of property management and/or Californian property regulations and should not be seen as legal advice.