Occasionally the conflicts between a landlord and tenant cannot be amicably resolved and must be taken to court. Here are six common situations where a landlord has the right to sue their tenant.
1. When the Tenant Owes Rent
If your tenant has stopped paying rent, your first step can be to send a notice of pay rent or quit. If the tenant still refuses to pay rent, you can then begin the eviction process. At the same time, you can also sue for the unpaid rent.
2. Property Damages & Alterations
When tenants make illegal or unpermitted alterations to the property, the landlord is able to sue for the amount it costs to restore the property to its prior state. A landlord is also entitled to the costs required to fix the property when the tenant does damage that is beyond normal wear and tear.
California law can be vague on what constitutes wear and tear versus what is damage. ‘Wear and tear’ is defined as the average deterioration of furniture, carpets, and other features of a rental property due to regular use over time. Examples of wear and tear include scuff marks on the wall, small chips of paint from door frames, tread and dirt in carpets, or small nail holes in the wall. Damage is usually caused by either intentional breakage and abuse or by negligence.
3. Unpaid Utility Bills
When a tenant leaves unpaid utility bills from their time in the property, the landlord is entitled to deduct the amount from their security deposit. If the security deposit is not enough to cover this amount, you can sue them for the difference. For more on security deposits, read below.
4. Money Owed is More than Security Deposit
There are several reasons in California why a landlord can retain or deduct from the security deposit: unpaid rent, cost of repairs for damages to property (not just wear and tear), cleaning costs, and restoration costs provided under the agreement. If the tenant still owes more than the security deposit, the landlord can sue for the excess.
5. Various Costs of Finding a New Tenant After an Illegal Move
When a tenant moves out before their lease has ended, the landlord can sue for the various costs that an illegal move can incur. This is not limited to the rent owed on the remaining time of the lease. A landlord can also sue for the additional costs of finding a new tenant, such as marketing costs or utilities. If the tenant left property behind, whether, at the end of their lease or when it is broken, the landlord can also sue for what it cost to dispose of or store the property.
6. The Catch-All
The above categories cover the main reasons a landlord can sue a tenant, but there is a broader principle of when a landlord can sue a tenant. If a tenant breaches any clause of the lease or causes financial, physical, or significant emotional harm, the landlord has a right to sue the tenant. For example, an item that would fall under breaching a clause of the lease would be if a tenant violates a pet policy. The landlord can sue for any damages the pet did to the property and for breaching the lease.
We Can Help
If you need help filing and carrying out a suit against your tenant, we can help you through the often confusing process. Small claims court can sometimes be a solution, but the dollar amount of damages is limited. While you cannot bring counsel into the hearing, if the amount is meaningful, it is suggested and allowed to seek counsel ahead of time. For help with any questions you may have, whether as a tenant or landlord, reach out to us at 714.456.9118 or send us an email at email@example.com.