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markaweaver

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Posts: 4
Reply with quote  #1 
My tenant of six years just vacated and I discovered some rotted out floor in the bedroom adjacent to the bathtub in the adjoining bathroom. There are several obviously detaching tiles on the shower wall. I'm having a crawl space inspection to assess the cause and extent of the damage, but ... 

My question is: isn't a tenant liable for reporting obvious issues of ongoing damage to the house, such as visible termites or a short and sparking in an outlet (not in this case)?

He never reported this (or other issues that did not turn out to be problematic). If he had I would have immediately thin set the tiles and regrouted and sealed the grout, obviously.

I am holding his $2200 security deposit for now, but the damage could be far greater than small claims court.

I never conducted a detailed inspection during his tenancy, other than spotting obvious things like peeling ceiling paint and a leaky faucet and a clogged a/c filter which I immediately corrected.

Any advice?

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Mark A Weaver
LLinVA

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Posts: 393
Reply with quote  #2 
They should, but this quickly gets into a gray area unless it is something super obvious. For example, shower tiles coming off may just appear to have been poor installation. It also depends on the condition of the flooring too. What is obviously water damage to you may have appeared as just old floors that need some work to the tenant. 

It would also depend on when it started (which could be hard to prove in court) and what was observable to the tenant (which could also be hard to prove in court). If they had a rug or furniture over the damaged floor, that could have hidden it from them. 

If you feel you would have a good case if you had to explain holding all or part of the security deposit to a judge, do so. But if the tenant challenges this, you will have to decide how strong your case really is. If the repair costs exceed the security deposit, then you will have to decide if it's worth battling them in court (it's usually not). 
markaweaver

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Posts: 4
Reply with quote  #3 
Thanks so much, LL from Virginia. I was curious, are you a landlord and have you had a similar experience? 

Your post raised so many questions  (I invite everyone in a similar situation to comment).

Why do you say it's not worth battling them in court? What experiences lead you to conclude that? (It turns out the damage is double to triple the security deposit of $2200) -- at least one floor joist and section of plywood subfloor under the bathtub need to be replaced.

You also raise the critical issue of proof. All I can say is the bathroom was remodeled in 2011 by a reputable contractor with permits and passed city inspection. I moved out in 2012 and there the bathroom was in mint new condition and no reason to expect tiles to detach so quickly from a new, quality remodeling company. I discovered the small area of rotted-through floor (not noticeable to tenant) and the two large loose tiles on the shower wall next to the bedroom with the rotted floor adjacent, which were obvious to anybody taking a shower. I noticed them last weekend when I took a shower in the house while we were cleaning.

Also, I hired a home inspector who noticed an illegal fire-hazard from re-wiring of the electrical sub-panel. I'm absolutely convinced my tenant re-wired it so he could use a welder in the garage, but I have zero proof. But I never touched that panel, or anyone else, and it passed inspection when I bought the house in 2000.  

Another issue is that I never conducted a formal inspection of the house in the six years. When i was inside I looked for obvious things, for example, seriously peeling ceiling paint in the kitchen which I quickly diagnosed and re-painted. But I never did a micro-inspection of that shower wall for example.

Also, I am contacting three attorneys to consult about this. The first wants a $1500 retainer and $250 a hour. She told me after a brief phone conversation she thinks I have a strong case and can prevail. But I told her I have no proof (no pre-rental photos of the shower stall, etc.) and when I asked her what legal grounds I had, she evaded my question. Florida landlord law, which I checked, does not mention tenant obligation to inform of ongoing damage, so I can't tell what she is basing my "strong" legal case on. I think she's just trying to get my $1500. If I lose in court, I have to pay her all the fees. She wins either way.

There're other issues too, but these are the basic most important ones.

Let this be a lesson for all of us BEFORE YOU RENT OUT YOUR PLACE, BE CLEAR ABOUT ALL THIS. TAKE PHOTOS OF EVERY NOOK AND CRANNY IN THE HOUSE, EVERY SECTION OF FLOOR, every tile in a water area IN CLOSE-UPS, take dozens of pics and make sure they are correctly dated by your camera. I'D SAY WRITE TENANT OBLIGATION INTO THE LEASE. I used the Florida Realtors residential lease and it does not address this issue.

I don't know what to do!


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Mark A Weaver
LLinVA

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Posts: 393
Reply with quote  #4 
"She wins either way." Exactly. She could argue negligence, but you would have to prove more likely than not that a normal person would recognize the problem and know they need to notify you. It sounds like the only evidence was a couple of loose tiles, which is not enough (in my opinion) to prove negligence. Now we are getting into exactly where the tiles are compared to where the water is in the shower, and the answer is still, even IF you can prove it all and win in court, the likelihood of actually getting money from these people is very small. These are also people who may not have actually done anything wrong besides not being observant enough to tell you about every little thing that goes wrong ever, which would have driven you crazy and caused you to not take any of their complaints seriously anyway, so you still wouldn't haven't rushed over and fixed the hidden leak that no one knew about.

It sounds to me like this is not negligence. No matter how much damage there actually is, what they could have seen didn't look like a major water leak that needed your immediate attention. It looked like a couple tiles came loose. That's not enough to go after someone for thousands of dollars in damage. I would be surprised if you even won. 

You can ask around and ask landlords how much money they have actually deposited into their checking account from suing tenants in court. Even if they win, it usually goes to collections and you see little if anything. That's just how it is. It's not worth your headache, time, money, etc. Just fix it, get it rented again, and pay a little more attention during routine inspections.
Yeps

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Posts: 8
Reply with quote  #5 
all she would have to say is when you did inspections even though you didn't do them often that you didn't even notice them. So if it wasn't noticeable to you while you were doing inspections then how could it be noticeable to her when she wasn't even looking for it.
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