Accidents happen, but not all rental property damage is the fault of the tenant. When your landlord notifies you that you must pay to have the hardwood floors sanded and refinished because your golden retriever's nails scratched them, you might be inclined to dispute the charge based on the poor condition of the floors when you moved in. Regardless of the damage claim, keep a level head and remain professional when disputing tenant damages.
Write a Letter
When you disagree with your landlord about your responsibility to pay for damages, you can tell him verbally, but it's best in any situation involving money and liability to communicate in written form. Disagreements expressed with a phone call should be followed up with a formal letter that acknowledges your receipt of the damages' claimed itemization, your reason for disputing each of the claims you disagree with, the amount, if any, that you agree is your responsibility, and gives a reasonable time within which you expect to receive your landlord's written response. If the claimed damages don't fall under your state's laws as items that a tenant is responsible for, refer to that law in the body of the letter, as well. Keep the tone of the letter professional, refraining from getting emotional or making petty comments. Send the letter through certified mail so that you have proof that your landlord received it and on what date.
You may have to take further steps than initially disputing damages with a letter, or you could find that once you've presented your position, your landlord will agree with you and a settlement is reached. Regardless of how far you have to go to reach an agreement, document as much as possible concerning the dispute. Save copies of the letters you send to your landlord and save all correspondence from him. Write down your understanding of each in-person and phone conversation you have and provide your landlord with copies to avoid miscommunication. Take pictures of the damaged property. You may not end up in court, but if you do, you'll have the necessary records to back up your case.
Use a Mediator
If you and your landlord are unable to come to an understanding regarding damages, a mediator may be able to help you resolve the issue without going to court. A neutral third party can sometimes help tenants and landlords come to an agreement or compromise in an affable atmosphere without incurring the costs of going to court. Contact a local tenant's association, tenant's rights group or the city manager's office to find a mediator.
When a tenant and landlord cannot reach an agreement on damages, the case may end up in court. The renter can sue the landlord if the security deposit was withheld to pay for damages. Of course, the landlord can bring a countersuit, but you'll both have the opportunity to argue your cases and have the decision made by someone who is an expert in landlords' and renters' legal rights.
Most issues can be prevented before they become problems. When you move into a rental, read your renter's agreement thoroughly, and make sure it outlines specific items you'll be responsible for. Do a walk-through with your landlord, noting items that are already damaged and need repair so that you cannot be blamed for them later. The walk-through should include a checklist that each of you sign and retain a copy of. Another walk-through should be done when you move out, too, and the original checklist should be referenced.
- Renter's Rights; Marcia Stewart and Janet Portman
- Every Tenants' Legal Guide; Janet Portman Attorney
- California Courts: Security Deposits
- New York Tenants' Rights; Mary Ann Hallenborg
- California Courts: Eviction
- Landlord and Tenant Guide to Colorado Residential Leases and Evictions; Victor M. Grimm and Denise E. Grimm
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.