As long there have been rental properties, there have been tenants who trash them. Sometimes they will agreeable cough up the amount that it would cost to repair whatever damage they might have caused, but more likely than not, they will take off, or argue that the cost of repairing their trashiness shouldn’t fall upon them.
This is when it is important for a landlord to be educated about their rights, AND their responsibilities. Firstly, it is a landlord’s responsibility to collect a security deposit and hold that money in trust until a tenant moves out. In British Columbia, the deposit can be up to half of one month’s rent, but may not exceed that amount. In addition to a security deposit, it is important that a landlord conducts thorough condition inspection reports. That paperwork must follow the guidelines outlined by the Residential Tenancy Office of BC (samples can be found on their website). The landlord should go through each room with the tenant, before handing them the keys to the property. During this inspection, the condition of each room should be carefully detailed, including small holes in the walls, scratches on the floors, missing light bulbs, bent horizontal blinds, general cleanliness, chipped counters or bathroom appliances, etc. The more detail that is on this condition inspection to begin with, the better a landlord will be able to prove damages in the end. Photos are useful as well, but avoid taking them during your move-in inspection, as you don’t want to freak somebody out who may be a perfectly good tenant. Take the photos beforehand.
It is also important that a landlord keep pertinent information about their tenant on file. When a tenant applies for an apartment, it is important that they give the name of their employer, including contact information, their own contact information (phone numbers), and the an emergency contact. It is best if this emergency contact is a family member like a parent or a sibling. The name and address of their previous landlord will also be useful, as you will be able to check with the previous landlord about the condition that their property was left in. If you get a fishy feeling about a landlord reference, it would be worth investigating by asking the applicant directly about what doesn’t sit right with you. If the reference is fake, you’ll be able to tell.
After you have a tenant living in your apartment, condition inspections within reasonable intervals are a valuable tool. You may schedule an inspection by providing the proper 24 hours notice to your tenant (see the Residential Tenancy Office’s website for details about serving guidelines). A regular condition inspection isn’t the same thing as a move-in or move-out condition inspection. The tenant does not need to be present, and it should just be a quick walk through to look for signs of damage. Two to three condition inspections per year can give a landlord a clear idea of how the property is being kept, and can allow the landlord to nip any damage in the bud before it gets out of hand. If a landlord notices that the tenant is causing significant damage to the property, they can serve the tenant with a Notice to End Tenancy for Cause (this form is available on the Tenancy Office’s website).
If a tenancy reaches its end without a landlord becoming aware of any damages and the tenant has left the apartment in disrepair, there are a few options for landlords. First and foremost, it is most important to try and communicate respectfully with the tenant about the damage that was caused and the possible remediation. It may be as simple as having a calm conversation and working out how something will be fixed. They say you attract more bees with honey (which means, be nice it usually works better).
It is very important to try to have the tenant complete a move-out condition inspection report (the same as the move in inspection report, on the same paper or with a copy of the original move in inspection). This should be done once the property has been empty and cleaned to the standard in which the tenants received the property. Mark down the condition of the unit as it is and then have the tenant sign off on it. They may choose to disagree with the condition, and the inspection report should have a spot where they may sign to say that they disagree. If they do disagree, a camera is most helpful, as photos can be provided as evidence in a Dispute Resolution Hearing Package.
Once you have decided that you need to keep all or part of a tenant’s security deposit, or file for additional money from a tenant, you MUST file to hold the tenant’s security deposit with the Residential Tenancy Office of BC. A landlord has FIFTEEN DAYS from the date of the move out inspection to file to hold the security deposit. If a landlord does not file to hold the deposit, and the tenant has not signed off on allowing the landlord to hold any or all of their security deposit, by law in BC, the tenant is entitled to DOUBLE their security deposit to be returned to them. This is a painful lesson learned by many landlords. The Residential Tenancy Office of BC’s website has an Online Application for Dispute Resolution, which can be filled out in order to request to hold a tenant’s security deposit. You may also visit one of their locations to file the paperwork on the spot.
Once the Application for Dispute Resolution has been filed, a file number and hearing date will be assigned to the applicant, and specific instructions will be given to the applicant for serving the Dispute Resolution Package and Evidence to the tenants and also to the Tenancy Office. This is where making sure that you had all of that information from the tenant on their application becomes important. If you can’t serve the package to the tenant because they’ve disappeared, then it will be difficult to recover any damages beyond their security deposit. Having work information and emergency contact information will make it much easier to track down somebody who is trying to disappear.
The Dispute Resolution Hearing will likely take place by conference call, at which time a Dispute Resolution Officer will review all the evidence that was submitted to them and make a decision based on that. If you’ve got all your ducks in a row and you aren’t trying to make your tenant pay for a whole property renovation, then you should be successful in recovering any damages.