Tenant damage in rental

In addition to our park, we own a rental condo in a retirement community in California. We rented it about five years ago to a son, whose Chinese-speaking parents would live in it. We’ve come over a few times in that five years to do some minor repairs, and while we could see they weren’t clean freaks, we didn’t see any evidence of damage either. They’ve now moved out, on their own accord, and we find that the drywall in the master shower is covered in mold, and some is peeling away from the wall. Best we can tell, they took showers back there and never used the vent fan in the ceiling, which is working.

Some background:

The master bathroom is connected to the master bedroom via a short hall.

During the times we came over here we looked in the bedroom window and it had a lot of condensation on the inside, and mold inside around the window frame. We knew they were doing something which generated a lot of humidity, but we didn’t know what it was. We did take action on it; we came in and cleaned the mold with bleach and mold-killer, and bought a small dehumidifier to plug in next to the window. And that seemed to help; the condensation went away, and the window mold did not return.

We had no idea of the mold in the master bathroom, though. We didn’t discover that until they moved out, just a week ago. In retrospect, we’re guessing that the condensation and mold on the bedroom window came from the heat and humidity from the master bath, 20 feet or so away down a hall.

I’ve had it appraised, and it’ll be between $3-4,000 to put the bathroom back into its proper condition, including mold remediation and air testing.

We do have evidence of neglect. The kitchen cooking area was covered in grease; took my wife 3 days to clean it all up. And apparently the Chinese grandparents thought it cute to let their grandkids draw on the walls and doors with crayons and markers; I have pictures of that.

My question: would you think I would have a small-claims case against the son (who signed the lease) for damage due to neglect?

Opinions welcome-



As long as it is strictly a “one-sided” court case, then the worst that could happen is that you’d lose and be out your time, filing fees and/or legal fees (although you might end up paying the other party’s legal fees if the case seems frivolous to the judge), then you can give it a try. It sounds like you have a good paper trail and a compelling story. Of course, the tenant will claim that the fan was insufficient to solve the humidity, and that will be hard to prove otherwise. But the crayons on the walls, in my opinion, would reflect that the tenant was not following reasonable steps to maintain the property (the range issue would be open to conjecture – they might claim that you’re a neat freak). So the real world results of filing the small court case would range from"

  1. They show up in court, lose, and you get a judgement.

  2. They show up in court, win, and you get nothing (and might have to pay their legal fees)

  3. They don’t show up in court, and you win by default

  4. They call and settle the case with you before you go to court.

If you file, you can always shoot for #4 and then cancel the suit. In addition, you can tell by the amount of “fight” in them whether #3 is on the table or not. Since you win in 3 of the 4 occurrences – and one does not even require going to court – then I’d file the suit. It’s worth the $65 or so filing fee to see what happens.

But I would not file the case if there’s something you’re leaving out that might sway the judge, like the toilet never worked, or the roof leaked, etc. Court cases are not fun unless you have zero downside. I think it was General Montgomery in WW2 that said “never get involved in a battle that you will not win”.

Thanks for the reply. I talked to the son today, kept it amicable, and he’s going to chew on it for a few days and call me back. Hopefully he’ll agree to cover the costs. And I do feel we have no downside. Everything worked when they moved in, and we responded quickly when something did need attention.

Oh well…we shall see! I’ll post the outcome.