12 Times a Landlord Can Sue a Tenant

Legal Reasons to Go to Court

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Conflicts between landlords and tenants cannot always be easily worked out. Sometimes, the only way to resolve the issue is in court. There are many times a landlord has a legal right to sue their tenant. Here are twelve reasons a landlord can bring a tenant to court. 

Why Would a Landlord Sue a Tenant

Filing a lawsuit against anyone can be a stressful experience, but it does have certain advantages.

  • Tenant Could Settle to Avoid Court: The first advantage, and the one many people hope for when filing a lawsuit, is that the case will never actually go to court. The hope is that, after receiving the court summons, the tenant will want to avoid the hassle of going to court and potentially losing anyway. They would rather pay the amount the landlord is requesting or compromise on paying a lesser amount that the landlord agrees to accept. This would also keep the tenant’s name off the court records.
  • Recover Money Owed: Sometimes taking a tenant to court is the only way to receive the money you are owed from the tenant. If a tenant does not believe they are responsible for paying for damages at the property, it can be very difficult to get them to pay the money unless they are legally obligated to do so.
  • Receive Additional Damages: In court, you can sue the tenant for the actual money you are owed, but also for additional damages. For example, if a tenant breaks their lease and moves out early, you can sue them for the rent that is due for the remainder of the lease and potentially the costs associated with finding a new tenant to fill the vacancy.
  • Clear Your Name: Suing your tenant and winning will provide legal proof that you were in the right.
  • The Case Will Be on Record: You will have a record that you won a court case against your tenant. This can be beneficial if the tenant ever tries to sue you at some point in the future. A victory will also show that you are a landlord who follows the law and knows the proper procedures and practices for running a rental property.

Risks of Taking a Tenant to Court

There are advantages to suing your tenant, but a landlord must also understand the risks involved. There is no guarantee of victory and you could trigger a counterclaim from your tenant.

  • You Could Lose: Filing a lawsuit is not a guarantee that you will win the lawsuit. You could spend your time, energy and money going to court and still lose.
  • Could Win, But Never See the Money: You could be awarded the money owed to you by the court, but you may never actually collect this money. Although the tenant will now have a judgment against them, you could be trying to chase the tenant down for years to collect the money you are owed.
  • Cost: Whether you win or lose, there will still be costs involved with going to court. You will have to pay a court fee just to file your case. This fee is usually small, somewhere between $25 and $50. Depending on the nature of your case, you may also have to hire an attorney to represent you, which can get very expensive very quickly.
  • Tenant Could Countersue: By initiating a lawsuit, you could anger your tenant, leading them to countersue. You could wind up losing the lawsuit and then have to pay even more money to the tenant in damages and attorney’s fees.

Is Suing the Only Option?

Instead of filing a lawsuit, a landlord can send a demand letter to the tenant in the hopes that it will be enough to get the tenant to pay what they owe. This letter may be intimidating enough to avoid a court battle. A landlord can also decide to do nothing and chalk up any losses as a learning experience.

12 Reasons You Can Sue Your Tenant

There are endless reasons that you can take a tenant to court. Some of the more common reasons a landlord can sue a tenant include:

  1. Unpaid Rent: If a tenant has not paid their monthly rent, you can first send them a notice to pay rent or quit. If that does not work, you can file to evict the tenant. At the same time, you can also sue them for any rent they owe.
  2. Unpaid Utility Bills: If there are any outstanding utility bills at the rental property in the tenant’s name, you can sue the tenant to recover this money. Often, you can deduct this amount from the tenant’s security deposit. If the security deposit is not enough to cover the expense, you can sue in small claims court to recover the rest.
  3. Damage to the Property: A landlord can sue a tenant if the tenant has caused damage to the property. Again, you can start by deducting the amount of damage from the security deposit. If the security deposit does not cover the amount of damage done, you can take your tenant to court to hopefully get the rest of the money you are owed.
  4. Unapproved Alterations to the Unit: If the tenant has made changes to the unit without approval, you can sue the tenant to recover the money it will take to restore the unit to its original condition.
  5. Tenant Owes More Than Security Deposit Amount: If you have taken the maximum amount of deductions from the tenant’s security deposit, but they still owe more, you can try to recover the rest in small claims court.
  6. Countersue for Security Deposit: A tenant may sue if they believe you wrongly withheld their security deposit. In this case, you can countersue to show you had every legal right to withhold or make deductions from their deposit.
  7. To Recover Lost Rent From an Illegal Move Out: If the tenant moved out before their lease was actually up, you can take them to court to recover the rent they owed for the remaining time on their lease.
  8. To Recover Costs to Find a New Tenant After Illegal Move Out: Some states will also allow you to pursue a tenant who has moved out early for the additional expenses you may incur trying to find a new tenant for the unit. This could include things like marketing costs and utilities.
  9. Expenses to Dispose of Tenant’s Abandoned Property: You can sue a tenant for the cost to dispose of or to store their abandoned property.
  10. Tenant Used the Property for Illegal Dealings: If a tenant used the property for some illegal means, you can sue them to recover damages.
  11. Illegally Have a Pet: If you have a no pets policy and you find out the tenant has an animal, you can sue them for damages and for any additional damage the pet has caused at the property.
  12. Other Breaches to the Lease Agreement: If the tenant has broken any other clause of the lease and it has caused you monetary, emotional or physical harm, taking the tenant to court could be the way to collect the money owed to you.