foreign tenant went home after vandalizing and stealing property, help?
August 11, 2018 8:46 PM   Subscribe

A friend in the U.S. rented to a member of the Saudi embassy. Two months before the end of his lease, Saudi guy stopped paying rent. Friend tried to get in touch, eventually discovered that Saudi guy had gone back to Saudi Arabia. The apartment is trashed. Repairs will be at least several thousand dollars. Also, friend had some property stored in the attic, of which he estimates that one to two thousand dollars' worth is now missing. Does friend have any recourse?

The local police say they can't do anything because landlord-tenant disputes are a civil matter.

Crazily enough, Saudi guy's boss at the embassy now wants to rent the apartment, although he said he's not able to help at all with recovering damages from Saudi guy.

We think Saudi guy is completely untouchable, being back in Saudi Arabia with, as far as we know, no plans to return.

It's possible that some of the missing property is still in the U.S. with Saudi guy's chauffeur. Saudi guy, after disclosing over email that he had left, asked if his chauffeur could come in and retrieve some of the property that he had abandoned in the apartment. Having not yet discovered Saudi guy's perfidy, friend permitted this. The chauffeur apparently had keys, and entered without anyone supervising. We're wondering if anything could be made of this, since friend agreed to let the chauffeur in but not alone without notice.

Friend is also talking about trying to appeal to the embassy, in the hope that the Saudi government might be embarrassed by their Saudi guy's behavior and pay him something. I'm skeptical, but maybe it's harmless to try?

What should we do?
posted by meaty shoe puppet to Law & Government (12 answers total)
There's a fair chance that, as diplomatic staff, he had diplomatic immunity. If so, there's little you can do.
posted by scruss at 9:00 PM on August 11, 2018

Your friend rented to a foreign citizen explicitly in the country for the short term without a substantial security deposit? Ouch. Chalk it up as an unfortunate, expensive lesson in screening his tenants and suggest that he improve his technique before he ends up with actual meth-heads. (And also that he not store his own personal property on the rental property without substantial security measures!)

Whether or not diplomatic immunity would apply in a civil suit is a somewhat complicated technical matter depending on his exact role at the embassy, but it doesn't really make a difference. Speaking practically, it's just not possible to recover small debts from someone not resident and not having property in the country through the legal system in a cost-effective way. That makes renting to such a person automatically a much higher credit risk.

I hope it goes without saying that he shouldn't rent to the former tenant's boss, who (sorry) clearly thinks he's an easy mark.
posted by praemunire at 9:14 PM on August 11, 2018 [19 favorites]

Friend is also talking about trying to appeal to the embassy, in the hope that the Saudi government might be embarrassed by their Saudi guy's behavior and pay him something

It's definitely worth a try but if I were your friend I wouldn't be terribly optimistic for the reason noted above -- diplomatic immunity.

What should we do?

Talk to a lawyer to see if she is aware of any other legal options that internet strangers wouldn't know about.

Consider it a lesson learned. Avoid renting to diplomats or any kind of embassy staff in the future, including and especially the embassy boss.
posted by the hot hot side of randy at 9:15 PM on August 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Diplomatic immunity is from prosecution and arrest, not all laws, and depends on his exact status. That said, the diplomatic missions were notorious for never paying their parking tickets. Millions of dollars at the UN alone. What incentive would they have?

I did find this in the document about immunities:
[The Office of Foreign Missions] wishes to highlight that if outstanding debts are not settled within a reasonable period (not exceeding six months), continued reliance on immunity to evade a debt may affect a mission member’s continued acceptability in the United States, to the extent consistent with U.S. international obligations. The departure of a mission member without settlement of outstanding debts may affect the Department's ability to accept a replacement and may also result in the United States taking such measures as may be appropriate.
The guy is still responsible for the damages, but he's still overseas. That's going to be the tough part.
posted by wnissen at 9:17 PM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Talk to a lawyer who has some degree of experience in that kind of stuff. Perhaps go to the local media if there are no obvious legal options.
posted by holgate at 9:19 PM on August 11, 2018

There was a recent similar case in New Zealand where the court ruled diplomatic immunity was in applicable and the diplomat did not need to pay expenses (rent arrears and bond) to the landlord.
posted by maupuia at 11:21 PM on August 11, 2018

Crazily enough, Saudi guy's boss at the embassy now wants to rent the apartment, although he said he's not able to help at all with recovering damages from Saudi guy.

This is a great wedge. Tell him you'll consider it if he gets your money (period), then charge an exorbitant security deposit (or the maximum for your jurisdiction). Oh, maybe also require a citizen cosigner.
posted by rhizome at 12:10 AM on August 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Oh, and as for going to the Saudi embassy, that means you have a federal building there and can maybe talk to someone associated with the State Department to get that ball rolling.
posted by rhizome at 12:12 AM on August 12, 2018

As a first step, your friend should report this to the Office of Foreign Missions. They may be able to provide some advice, but at the very least there would be something on file. I would also then be in touch directly with the Saudi embassy. Neither of these is very likely to result in your friend getting their money back, but at least they’ll have alerted those who need to know and maybe this dirt bag has his career compromised.

Diplomatic immunity is something that is asserted by the government of the diplomat. They can waive it. It exists so that diplomats aren’t unfairly targeted by their host governments. If I were this diplomat, my government would waive it in a heartbeat and tell me I’m liable for the damages and on my own. But unfortunately, you’re dealing with the government of Saudi Arabia.
posted by fso at 3:53 AM on August 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

Forget about the damages.

BUT ask the new guy for pre-paid six months of rent at a much higher rate. Basically getting you the money back. Plus a sizeable deposit in case you have new issues with this guy.

It'll be easier to get him to overspend than getting him to explicitly pay for the mistakes of another.
posted by cacao at 8:10 AM on August 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

How about telling the boss he will rent to him AFTER he recovers the damages? Act genuinely interested in renting to him. Then the moment the moneys are repaid, tell him the unit is unavailable.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 11:01 AM on August 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

The chauffeur apparently had keys
All the locks should be changed immediately, even if the tenant's keys have been returned.
posted by soelo at 3:46 PM on August 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

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