If a tenant has created massive damages to a rental, can it be considered criminal at some point?

UPDATED: Sep 29, 2010

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If a tenant has created massive damages to a rental, can it be considered criminal at some point?

We had allowed a tenant in our house on a 2 years lease with a “purchase option agreement”. We had the same brokerage company handling the option agreement handle management. Management never collected the security deposit. We specifically, in writing in all documents, forbade any changes be made to the home until the tenant bought it. However they made electric, plumbing, and structural changes. Additionally, they removed tress and outside structures. They even removed appliances and other fixed systems. Th damage amount is way beyond small claims court. Can we file criminal charges? What does a landlord do in such an extreme damages situation?

Asked on September 29, 2010 under Real Estate Law, Maryland


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

No, you almost certainly cannot file criminal charges. If the tenant had simply committed theft or vandalism (ripped out copper wiring to sell it, for example), that would be one thing; but making changes, even ones not agreed upon, is not criminal.

You can sue them. You'll simply have to not sue them in small claims, but in whatever court will accomodate the amount of damages you intend to sue for. As a practial matter, that will mean retaining a lawyer, so you need to factor that cost in; but if the tenant violated a clear contractual term, you should have a strong case and a good chance of recovering. Good luck.

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