Get reimbursed for tenant violations

Rent it Right

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Q: We own rental property in a college town, and have generally had good experiences with our student tenants. But this year we got a particularly rowdy bunch, and despite our pleas (and the intercession of the neighbors and the police), we were slapped with a fine on account of the renters’ loud parties. Can we insist that they reimburse us? Is this grounds for eviction? –Ann and Goren M.

A: Let’s look at your second question first — can you terminate the lease based on the renters’ loud parties? You probably can, based on your tenants’ violation of your town’s noise ordinance (the police had the authority to intervene because violating the ordinance is an infraction, subjecting the perpetrators to a fine). In other words, the tenants broke the law.

Whenever tenants use rental property in an illegal way — as a meth lab, to give an extreme example — landlords have the right to declare the tenancy over.

Not every illegal act that occurs on the property can justify eviction. For instance, writing a check on insufficient funds can be a violation of a state’s criminal law, but it’s doubtful that a landlord could evict simply because the tenant sat at the kitchen table while writing the check. The closer the relationship between the illegal act and the property, the more likely a judge would be to uphold a termination.