Tenant Intentionally Caused Damage.

What do you do when the tenant causes intentional damage to your rental property?

The tenant used the property owner's fridge to hit golf balls off up and it has multiple dents in the door, but is fine otherwise. How would a property management charge the tenant for a still usable item that is badly damaged?

Property Management Company Charges Tenant for Intentional Damage

In the bustling heart of Philadelphia, where the charm of historic row houses meets the modern skyline, managing rental properties comes with its unique set of challenges and opportunities. As a dedicated member and the marketing director of a leading Philadelphia property management company, I'm constantly on the lookout for innovative solutions and practical advice to share with our community of ethical, moral, and educated landlords. Today, I'm excited to share insights from a recent episode of the Grow Real Estate Investing Podcast, which shed light on a peculiar yet enlightening scenario involving a rental property, a stainless steel fridge, and an errant golf ball—or rather, several of them.

The Dilemma: A Fridge Turned Driving Range

Imagine discovering your tenant has used a brand-new stainless steel fridge as a backstop for golf balls, leaving it dented beyond recognition. This is exactly the situation posed by Susan, a listener of our podcast. The tenant vacated, and the fridge, merely three years old, bore the brunt of what can only be described as an indoor driving range session gone wrong. The question then arises: What do you charge?

Navigating the Waters of Tenant Liabilities

As landlords, we're often faced with the task of assessing damages and determining the appropriate charges for tenants at the end of their lease. In situations like this, where the damage is significant yet "cosmetic," the path isn't always clear cut. The immediate, gut reaction might be to charge the tenant for a new fridge outright. After all, such blatant disregard for property can't go unchecked.

Legal Considerations vs. Practical Solutions

However, it's crucial to navigate these waters carefully, keeping in mind both legal obligations and practical implications. Legally, you might be entitled to depreciate the cost of the fridge based on its expected lifespan and charge the tenant for the lost value. Practically, the simplest solution—replacing the fridge—might seem like the best course of action, but it's not without its nuances.

Three Approaches to Resolution

  1. Replacement: The straightforward approach is to charge the tenant for a new fridge. This solution is not only practical but often uncontested by tenants who recognize the extent of their actions. It avoids the hassle and cost of repairs, offering a clean slate.
  2. Depreciation: Legally, you could calculate the fridge's depreciation based on its expected lifespan (let's say 10 years) and charge the tenant for the years of service lost (in this case, seven years). This method ensures a fair compensation for the actual loss incurred.
  3. Door Replacement: Though potentially the most expensive option, replacing just the damaged part of the fridge and charging the tenant could be a middle ground. This option ensures the tenant bears the cost of their actions without unduly penalizing the landlord.

My Take: A Blend of Practicality and Fairness

In my professional opinion, and drawing upon years of experience managing rental properties across Philadelphia, I lean towards a blend of practicality and fairness. While replacing the fridge might seem like the simplest solution, understanding and applying the principle of depreciation provides a balanced approach that respects both the landlord's investment and the legal framework guiding tenant liabilities.

The Importance of a Philadelphia Property Management Company

This scenario underscores the invaluable role a Philadelphia property management company plays in navigating the complexities of rental property management. From assessing damages and determining charges to handling disputes and maintaining legal compliance, a professional management team is equipped to handle it all, ensuring peace of mind for landlords and fostering a positive living environment for tenants.

Final Thoughts: Ethical Management and Landlord Empowerment

As landlords, our goal is to provide safe, welcoming homes for our tenants while safeguarding our investments. Ethical management practices, coupled with informed decision-making, are the cornerstones of achieving this balance. Whether you're faced with a fridge-turned-driving-range or any other property management dilemma, remember: knowledge, fairness, and professional support are your best tools.

In closing, I hope this discussion not only provides practical advice for handling tenant-induced damages but also highlights the broader responsibilities we hold as landlords and property managers. By fostering a culture of respect, integrity, and professionalism, we can navigate the challenges of rental property management with confidence and success.

To all my fellow landlords and property managers in Philadelphia, let's continue to lead by example, elevating the standards of rental property management and creating thriving, vibrant communities across our beloved city.


Joe White

Joe White is a Philadelphia Property Manager and Real Estate Broker. He is the owner of Grow Property Management and has been involved in the management, sales and purchases of Philadelphia area rental investment properties since 2008. He is an author and works as a real estate investment consultant and construction manager.

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