Housing disrepair is a pet peeve for every tenant (and landlord), one that – if left unattended – usually could escalate to the point it results in a court case.
I thus thought it might be useful to share a couple practical tips applicable to both landlords and tenants that should help curtail disputes that end up in court – and if it hits the fan, how to best prepare your case. Whichever side you are on.
Document all Correspondence
Whether you are a landlord or tenant, all correspondence between you and the other party should be documented. Because should there be any dispute with regard to the house’s condition, you can have something to hang on to.
If you know how legal cases work, then you’ll know that face-to-face conversations between you and the other party cannot hold water in a courtroom. Phone calls too can be risky, as it could come down to who the judge believes on the day.
As much correspondence as possible should be done via email or letter – and kept for reference, obviously. Considering phone calls are hard to avoid (sometimes physical meetings too), also ensure you have contemporaneous notes of the same.
Avoid Relying on the Failings of the Property Manager or Agent
You will often encounter instances where the landlord argues in his/her defense that the property manager or letting agent failed to pass on the tenant’s grievances. It very well may be, but it doesn’t offer a valid defense.
The thing is, the landlord is assumed to have been imputed with knowledge once the complaints are lodged with the property manager – whether or not the information was communicated. The responsibility then shifts from the tenant to the landlord who now has to prove that indeed something was done to address the issue(s).
In the event the landlord loses the case and the tenant is awarded damages, s/he could subsequently recover the damages from the property manager. But this would only apply if there is a provision to join the property manager as a party to the claim or damages. All in all, things can get really messy (and costly) if they go down this route, with little guarantee of success.
This is why we insist on working only with a reputable agent or property manager with a proven track record, someone who cannot shirk their responsibility.
Obtain Condition Reports
As a landlord, it never hurts to check on your property every now and then to ensure everything is running as it should. Irrespective of how many states are in between your rental property and current place of residence, make it a point to proactively assess the status of your rental investment through regular inspections and obtaining condition reports.
Make sure to address any issue outlined in the condition reports because you will be doing more than just making the premises tenable for your tenants: the maintenance tasks and repairs can only keep your property in tip-top condition. And when it’s in top condition, vacancies will be a foreign concept.
Landlords should also document the condition of the property prior to occupancy and after the tenant moves out through comprehensive initial and check-out reports. These reports should include detailed notes of the condition of the fixtures as well as images of each room, not forgetting the property’s exterior. It is only through reports such as these that a landlord can prove the state of disrepair a tenant left the property in.
As for tenants, they also need to ensure any issues are documented in condition reports to serve as proof that they really did play their part in bringing the matter to the landlord’s attention.