Filing a civil action suit on this tenant was the right thing to do. It is not necessary to take every tenant to court that causes damage exceeding the security deposit, but sometimes it is the only thing that should be done.
In the beginning, the tenant signed a two-year lease, then renewed again for one more year. Between a previous tenant and this one, the timing was working out perfect for the owner’s return from her five year service in a foreign country, so we ignored the damage we found to the house during the periodic inspections. In this instance we deemed it more cost effective to leave matters alone since rent was being paid on time and damage had already been done.
Breaching the lease, the tenant moved out six months early, taking his two boys with him. To list all of the damage would take while, but including the broken lease, the amount owed exceeded $10,000.00.
We were able to get the house painted and most repairs made, except for the carpet damage, by using the tenant’s $2800 security deposit. By taking the price of carpet, prorated by age, off the tally of damages and deducting the security deposit from the cost of repairs and the broken lease, we were left with more than $3,500 to try and recover.
We filed a law suit in small claims court and assembled our evidence. On the court date, the tenant’s evidence was this statement: “Your honor, I have two boys, and boys will be boys.” The judge said in reply, “You need to then make your boys pay for the damage.”
Even though we were awarded judgment, our job was not over. We did not have the money. The tenant made no attempt to pay. He only gave us empty promises.
Learning that the tenant had moved to a neighboring county, we obtained his new address. With the abstract of judgment we received from the judgment, we created a public record and had a lien placed on his property.
With the lien on his credit and public records, if our past tenant ever tries to sell his house or borrow money for equity, or buy or sell real estate of any kind, he will be forced to pay the full sum of the judgment, plus interest.
A lien is powerful, but the challenges are: 1) finding the county where the individual owns property, 2) the probability that there are secured loans, tax liens and/or other judgments that come ahead of the judgment lien, 3) the possibility that the debtor may go bankrupt and avoid paying the debt.
Risking these challenges, in this case, was worth doing. This tenant didn’t get off free and clear. He answered for his wrong in a court of law. Filing the lien cost us very little. The lien is now a public record and may prove effective. A nominal filing fee paid every 10 years will keep the lien active.
The moral of the story is: don’t stop short of fully exercising the legal boundaries when “should” becomes “right” or “boys will be boys” is not an excuse.
If you have concerns about anything legal, seek counsel. I am always willing to answer questions that I legally can.
Until next time,