“A photo is worth a thousand words.”
Beginning landlords need to learn this fact and seasoned landlords need to remember it.
There will come a time for every landlord when a dispute arises with a tenant over property damage. When that happens, detailed photos of the property are the best form of proof.
Documenting with Photos
To protect yourself with photos, follow these steps:
1. INSPECT PREMISE BEFORE MOVE-IN:
Take “before” photos of your entire rental property prior to a tenant taking possession. Include all interior rooms, fixtures, appliances, property exterior and yards, outdoor fixtures such as a pool, fountains, special landscaping, etc.
2. LABEL PHOTOS:
Label and date each photo appropriately.
3. SAVE FILES:
You can print the photos out, but you should also make sure the original digital files are saved on your computer or in the cloud for future reference.
4. INSPECT PREMISE AFTER MOVE-OUT:
Perform a move-out inspection of the property. During the inspection, take “after” photos of the entire property, making sure to take clear, well-lit photos of any damage.
5. CONSOLIDATE PROOF:
Many states allow a landlord between 15-60 days to consolidate a list of damages, make repairs, and then return the deposit.
6. DELIVER LIST:
Document the damages and send an itemized list and cost of repairs to the tenant. Save the photos as “surprise” proof if you need to go to court. The photos always throw them off because they don’t expect them. If the tenants have any intention of covering the cost of damages, they will do so prior to being taken to court.
What’s the Point?
Why go to all this trouble? If your tenant damages your property, what proof do you have?
It could be your word against theirs! Tenants might claim that the carpet was dirty and worn when they moved in, even though you had installed brand-new carpet.
If you have to take your tenant to court for damages to your property, you will need proof for the judge, as your word alone won’t mean much in a court of law.
A True Story
A landlord that I know had to file eviction papers against a tenant for nonpayment of rent and damage to the property.
In court, the landlord explained to the judge that the tenant owed two month’s rent and had caused extensive property damage. The judge turned and asked the tenant if he owed the money. The tenant responded that he owed two month’s rent but did not damage the property.
The judge then asked the landlord what kind of damages were being claimed.
The landlord replied simply by pulling out a stack of photos, selecting only the top four photos and handing them to the bailiff, who passed them to the judge. As she reviewed the photos, the judge’s face could not hide her disgust.
These are the most disgusting, vile photos I have ever seen.
Judge: “I have heard many landlord-tenant cases over the years, but in all that time I have never seen photos like these. These are the most disgusting, vile photos I have ever seen. There are cat feces all over the room and overflowing the litter box. Did you do this?”
Tenant: “Yes, your honor, that is from our cat,” the tenant replied, truthfully but hesitantly.
Judge: “Judgment for the Plaintiff in the amount of $5,000,” the judge stated quickly and firmly.
This is a true story, and the court session didn’t last more than 10 minutes.
Why? Because the landlord came prepared with photos.
If you want to save time and money, and win in court, take the time to capture thorough before and after photos. The photos say it all and will do the work for you!
The proof is in the photos!