The entire point of the security deposit on an apartment isn’t to take extra rent money from the tenants. It’s to ensure that damage to the unit can be repaired when the tenant leaves. Getting that money after the fact would be very hard, so landlords take money at the beginning of the process and then return what they don’t require.
In many cases, tenants barely cause significant damage at all. The deposit isn’t just for normal wear-and-tear, but for anything excessive. Ideally, you vet your tenants well enough that you know they’re not the type of people to intentionally cause excessive damage.
But what if it happens anyway? Say a tenant has a child who causes serious damage to the home, for instance, or say there is an unexpected domestic dispute. No matter how it happens, you know as soon as you see the unit that your security deposit isn’t going to be enough. Now what?
You may be able to sue to cover those damages
If this happens, it can be difficult and frustrating. The good news is that you may have legal options. You could sue your tenant — or former tenant, depending on the time frame here — to get the money to cover the costs. The apartment is still your property, after all, and they damaged it far beyond wear and tear.
One thing to keep in mind is the full cost of the repairs. It’s much more than just materials. You may also have to pay professionals to make those repairs, if they’re beyond the scope of what you can do — or want to do — on your own. You may also have to keep the apartment off of the market for a month (or more) while the repairs are made, which costs you in rent money. Since all of this is related to the damage, you may need to include it in your lawsuit.
Getting the process started
The first thing to do is to talk to the tenant, explain the costs, and see if they’re willing to cover them. If not, though, then it is time to start the legal process so that the money doesn’t come out of your pocket.