How do I recover property damages to my rental from a tenant who ran a meth lab and is now in jail?

Question

 Our tenant was apparently running a meth lab in our home and has gone to jail.  The operation caused lots of damage.  Is there any way to collect from him even though he is already in jail?

 

Answer

Rental properties that house meth labs typically sustain major structural damage. It’s not uncommon for landlords to have to replace appliances, fixtures, pipes, and even walls, in order to rid the structure of the lingering effects of the strong chemicals that are used to manufacture meth. You’ll probably need to hire a professional cleaning company that has the equipment to safely dispose of tainted items.

The first place to look for compensation is the tenant’s security deposit. Under any state’s law, applying the money to meth clean-up will be a valid use of that money. After that, you can go to court and sue your tenant for the overage, if there is any.

You’ll need to serve the ex-tenant with court papers announcing the eviction (the Summons and Complaint, as they’re often called). The fact that the person won’t be able to appear won’t stop the lawsuit. Although the prisoner-defendant may try some creative ways to “appear,” chances are that you’ll win the lawsuit by default. In other words, the judge will hear your case and listen to your evidence, and decide whether you’re entitled to a money judgment, and for how much.

Having a judgment and actually collecting on it are two different matters, however. If your tenant is “judgment proof,” without assets such as real estate (and he’s clearly without income), you won’t get paid.

However, judgments are good for many years, and if you record it in your county, you can enforce it later if and when the ex-tenant gets out of jail and begins to earn income or acquire assets. Remember that enforcing judgments assumes that the defendant will conduct business in the open (how else will you learn of jobs or assets?). If your ex operates below the radar, it may be next to impossible to collect.

 

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