Residential Property Management/Should I take my property management company to small claims court
I am helping my 87 year old mother with a rental property she has owned for many years. Over the last five years, she has contracted with a Property Management company in Salt Lake City. They have done a pretty good job in the past; however, it appears that they totally dropped the ball with the last set of tenants. A few months ago, the tenants gave notice to vacate. When I met up with the property management representative for the exit inspection, we both found inside and outside damage to the property. The tenants had dogs, and had let them pee all over the carpets. Two cleanings later, the carpeting still reeks of dog urine and there is a large hole in one of area of relatively new carpeting that was obviously created by a dog pawing in that area.
Outside, the tenants had let the grass in the entire back yard die, and it was not just brown or patchy grass, there were large areas in which there was only dirt. This was a situation in which there was no possibility of watering dead grass - the whole back yard needs to be re-sodded. It was clear to me at that time, that the management company had not done an inspection of either the yard of the house in over a year.
Clearly, the tenants caused a great deal of damage. They lost their deposit as well as their cleaning deposit, but that money has only been used to clean the interior of the house. In reviewing the tenant's lease agreement, they are responsible for excessive damage to both the carpeting and the yard, yet the property management company has not demanded that they pay for damages for these two expensive repairs/replacements. I recently asked them why I have not received a check for the damage to the yard and was told that the company could not bill the tenants until the actual work has taken place. Is it true that I am the one who has to pay for the repairs in advance and then try to get the management company to get the money from they tenants? One of the problems is that my mother has no extra money to pay for these repairs first, but aside from that, is that really the way it is supposed to work?
I have paid the management company to represent me (my mother) as the owner of the property, but it is my strong opinion that they have been negligent in their duty to regularly inspect both the inside and the outside of the home. Had they done so sooner, they would have surely seen the damage that was being done to the home and informed me of the problems rather than seeing them for the first time at the exit inspection. I am wondering what my options are at this point. Do you think I have a case against the management company that I should pursue in small claims court or do you think there may be a better option? They should be dealing the the former tenants to get the money for damages, but they state that the tenant is now disputing the use of the deposit money to have the housed cleaned by a professional company. In the meantime, I still have no resolution to this problem. Someone besides my mother needs to pay for these damages. Should I bring both the tenant and the property management to small claims court? I just need some advice on what to do next. The house is empty and my mother is not receiving any rent on it but still paying the monthly management fee. I have a copy of the photographs taken by the management company of the home and yard both before and after the tenants lived there, so I feel like I have a pretty strong case against the tenants.
Thank you for your help in advance.
It sounds like you definitely have a case against the former tenant, so you should definitely pursue them if they failed to maintain per the provisions of the lease. You don't need to do the work first before suing, but you will need firm estimates so you can quantify the costs in court. In advance of going to court, you will need to send a demand letter to the tenant. Note that this should have been done by the management company as part of the disposition and accounting of the security deposit.
As for the management company, I suppose you may have a claim for failure to perform their functions. If you prevail, I doubt you would recover for the damages that the tenant did (on the basis that even if the management company did inspect, the tenant could have still damaged the property and the only recourse would have been eviction). But you may be able to recover the management fees you paid to them. First step should be for you to contact the owner of the management company to try and reach a solution. If that is unsuccessful, then I suppose you could name both the tenant and the management company in the same lawsuit (with the understanding that I'm not an attorney so I can't offer legal advice).