I may need to take my tenant to Small Claims Court, and I would like some advice.
My tenant was arrested in early January and is currently out on bail but under restrictions as to what he can do as he must stay with his surety. I don't know what the charges are or whether he's likely to do jail time. He's agreed to give up the apartment and to pay for February in lieu of notice even though he won't be living here.
We've agreed on the amount that he owes me for back rent, which amounts to more than five months' rent. He has been behind on his rent for the past two years. He was struggling financially and having trouble paying his rent, and since he was showing intent to pay by giving me the rent or at least some rent nearly every month and paying down some of the arrears some months, I was trying to give him time to catch up. Then he gave me nothing for either December or January and it really got out of hand. He has promised to pay it all by giving me some money every month until it's all paid off, but honestly at this point I don't have much faith in his promises. Then there's the reality that if he goes to jail, he won't have any way to earn the money to pay me.
Besides the back rent, I am also wondering if I can sue him for what he did to my property. He left his apartment in the most horrible, disgusting mess I've ever seen. You can see pictures of the apartment as he left it beginning here
, and pictures of the apartment as it was when he moved in on November 1, 2010 here
. I have already spent 15 hours just cleaning out all the garbage (and wound up with cuts to my hands, headaches, and aggravated allergies, and it was especially hard on me to work this hard to due to my chronic fatigue issues, and it means lost income for me because I work freelance), and I estimate it will take another 25 hours to get the apartment clean. Am I entitled to sue for a cleaning charge? I think $600 seems like a reasonable amount (40 hours @ 15/hr). I will say that the apartment is *just* filthy. There seems to be little actual permanent damage, and what there is seems to be consistent with normal wear and tear, so I'm willing to pay for the supplies for the minor repairs and new paint job it needs myself.
What I was thinking I might do was to get my tenant to sign an agreement to pay me for the rent and the cleaning charge, with set terms as to how much he'll be paying me and when, with the understanding that if he fails to meet a payment that I will take him to court. Is this worth trying? My thinking is that it's worth trying because if it doesn't work the signed agreement will help me in court at least.
Any advice on how to take a tenant to small claims court, what I can and should sue him for, and what other options I might have would be welcome. Please just don't tell me I'm screwed and should do nothing or lecture me for how I've handled this. I know there's a very real chance I will never get what my tenant owes me, but I want to do everything I reasonably can to collect on his debt to me, so advise me on that aspect, please.