When a Tenant Leaves a Rental Damaged


As a landlord, there are few times that are more stressful than when a tenant leaves your rental property, and you enter to find it damaged. All at once, you find yourself managing a variety of different problems at once:

  • How do you repair the damages as quickly as possible, so you can re-rent the space?

  • How do you document the damages and keep track of the cost of repairs so you can be compensated?

  • How do you get into contact with the former tenant? If you can get ahold of them, how do you get them to pay for the damages they caused?

  • If you are holding a security deposit, what are the rules around using that money to repair damages caused by the tenant and your responsibility to account for the security deposit to the former tenant?

  • What if the cost of the damage exceeds the amount of the security deposit you are holding?

You know you need to take action quickly, but you also know that you need to keep careful documentation. So, what’s first? How do you get started solving these problems? Let Wakefield Law walk you through it:

Step 1: Document the Damages

First and foremost, you must create a record of any damages caused by the tenant. Take photographs (maybe even do a video walk-through) and make notes of everything that you see. Make sure to take a look at your lease. Some lease agreements provide a specific procedure to walk-throughs and documenting damage. Yours may even require that you notify the former tenants of their right to be present during the walk-through. Always act in accordance with the terms stated in your lease.

Step 2: Mitigate the Damages and Re-rent

Once the damages have been documented in accordance with the lease, it will be important that you re-rent the property as soon as possible. Even if your lease allows for you to charge rent back to the former tenant for the time the property is vacant, that doesn’t mean you should drag your feet on re-renting. Get the place cleaned up and back on the market so that you have a steady rental income again.

Step 3: Consult with a Professional Regarding the Security Deposit

Not sure how to manage your security deposit? Click here to read our Virginia Landlord’s Guide to Security Deposits. The rules you have to follow regarding your security deposit are governed by your lease agreement and Virginia law. Revisit your lease and contact an experienced landlord representation attorney. At Wakefield Law, we can help you navigate the security deposit process so that your damages are covered and you comply with the law and your lease.

Step 4: Notify the Former Tenant

Under the law (and likely under your lease), if you use any of the security deposit to cover the cost of damages, you will need to provide some kind of documentation to the former tenant. Often, all that is required is an itemized list of the damages and the costs of repairing each one. The costs should be shown deducted from the total security deposit being held. If the damages are less than the total security deposit, the remainder should be returned promptly to the former tenant. There are often time limits you must follow in accounting for the security deposit to the former tenant. If there are further damages beyond the security deposit amount, you may need to pursue a claim against the former tenant for the difference.

Step 5: Make Demand for the Cost of Damages

This is where hiring a landlord representation attorney who also specializes in collection law is a great idea. At Wakefield Law, we don’t do everything -- we do a few things, really well. It just so happens that pursuing collection claims against former tenants is the intersection of two of our major practice areas. So, what do we do if your former tenant owes you more than the amount of their security deposit? We pursue a collection claim against them. To learn more about how the collection process works, read this article.

Step 6: Review Your Lease and Rental Process

By the time you reach the end of this experience, it’s likely that you will have a list of things that you would have done differently. Maybe it’s a better-drafted lease, maybe it would be scheduling a walk-through with a tenant before move out, maybe you need to better manage security deposits. No matter what steps in your rental process you want to improve, Wakefield Law can help. Our experienced attorneys have been representing Virginia landlords for 30 years. Let us help set you up for success in the future. Give our office a call at 703-771-9740.