Ask the County Law Librarian – Recovering Money for Property Damage by Tenant
Q: In July 2011, I contracted a new driveway for my home. The cost was $3300. I paid extra for cement coloring. My tenant parked his car on the new driveway and caused permanent stains on both sides of the driveway due to leaks from his vehicle. In October 2011, he tried cleaning it but was not successful. He gave me a hand written note giving up on cleaning the stains. In November 2011, I hired a professional to clean the stains and not all of the stains were removed. He refuses to pay for the damage on the driveway or claim fault for his negligence. This incident has caused a disharmony between us. He knew his vehicle needed repair but was too lazy and stingy to repair his car. We have a written contact that requires his vehicle be maintained if he is to park on the driveway.
He gave his rent termination notice on January 1, 2012 to vacate the premise by January 31, 2012. We have a month to month rent agreement. The living arrangements have been hostile as he says that I have to sue to collect. He has also made the two rooms and bathroom he rented from me unclean, and refuses to clean it. I gave this tenant with his two kids a very clean living arrangements when he moved in on March 1, 2011.
There is also a possibility that he may not vacate my property on January 31, 2012 as I can see the bank notices for his bounced checks he gets in his mail.
How do I make this tenant from hell pay for the property damage? and evict?
A: Thank you for your question! It seems you have a couple of issues, let’s tackle the driveway damage first. You didn’t mention if your tenant gave you a security deposit when he moved in. If he did, you may be able to withhold some of it to recover the property damage. California Civil Code §1950.5 primarily governs security deposits; be sure to read each section carefully to be aware of the various requirements for both the landlord and the tenant. Also the California Department of Consumer Affairs has a very good article discussing when a landlord can keep security deposits.
If there was no security deposit left, then Small Claims court is a common venue for disputes over property damages. It has the advantage of being very quick, with cases typically being heard in only a few months, and of being relatively inexpensive. You can sue in Small Claims for up to $10,000, and your damages fall well within this limit. Before filing, you should write a formal demand letter requesting payment for the damages to the driveway, possibly including an estimate for the cost of repairs. You can get help writing your demand later from the California Courts Self-Help Center.
At the law library, we suggest reading Everybody’s Guide to Small Claims Court in California, a very useful book on the small claims process. Every county in California has a Small Claims Advisor that can assist you with your case free of charge. You can find county-specific court information including Small Claims Advisors here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-advisors.htm .
For your second issue, if your tenant becomes a “holdover tenant”, meaning he won’t leave after his notice expires, you will need to formally evict him. A book at the law library that should help with this issue is the California Landlord’s Law Book: Evictions , available for purchase at Nolo Press, or to view at our law library, which discusses the process and has sample forms and instructions. You may also want to visit the Unlawful Detainer Advisory Clinic, located in the Carol Miller Justice Center. The clinic assists both landlords and tenants in filling out answers and complaints, preparing cases for trial, and filing post judgment motions.
You can always do some research at the Sacramento County Public Law Library. The law library has print and electronic resources and friendly reference law librarians are available to assist you.
Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email firstname.lastname@example.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.