Cupertino, CA asked in Landlord - Tenant for California

Q: How can I recover damages from tenants who broke lease, caused damages, when moratorium is in effect?

I rented my family house to some tenants who passed a background check, etc. Then, when COVID hit, they refused to pay rent saying "well, my friends aren't paying rent, so we're not going to either." 60 days before the end of their lease, I sent them a letter of "non-renewal". They subsequently broke expensive custom windows, destroyed hardwood floors, put holes in walls, and overall cost me about $20,000 in damages. Then, they just disappeared into the night a week after the lease was up. I've tried to track them down using online search services, but it's like they're ghosts now. I want to recover damages, and I sent them the security deposit reconciliation to their last known address (my rental house) and no response. With the courts closed, how do I recover from them? This seems crazy - I'm advising all landlord friends of mine to either leave their houses vacant while this moratorium is in effect, or demand solid proof of good references and employment.

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1 Lawyer Answer
Maurice Mandel II
Maurice Mandel II
  • Landlord Tenant Lawyer
  • Newport Beach, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: First, the Courts are not closed. Small Claims max is $10,000 so you want at least Limited Jurisdiction ($25k). If back rent is on top of the $20 k, you are in Unlimited j/d. The courts are open and taking new case filings, suggest you file right away and hire a PI to do a search for these tenants. You must have the SSN and CDL on the rental app. You already did a background check, they will pop up somewhere. Consult an eviction attorney regarding what to do.

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