Who pays the price for a partying teen? 4 ways to minimize the risk of property damage

Amanda Maher
Amanda Maher | 6 min. read

Published on October 8, 2015

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”—or so the saying goes. And it was good intentions that ended up wreaking havoc at the property of one hapless owner.

An unsuspecting Kius Pahlavan hosted an open house for his Calgary rental suite. It was during this open house that Pahlavan met a still-unnamed social worker who explained that he was overseeing the case of an 18-year old male who needed transitional housing on his path to independent living. The teen was a good kid, the social worker promised, and his agency would continue to monitor the teen’s process as he transitioned to life on his own.

The property owner could call the social worker directly if any issues arose. As he handed over his cell phone number, the social worker assured Pahlavan there wouldn’t be any problems.  And at first there weren’t. The social worker left a $775 security deposit and continued to pay the teen’s rent every month—each time in cash.

Less than three months after the teen moved in, he savagely destroyed Pahlavan’s rental suite. Parties lasted well into the night and included illegal drug use. On several occasions, fights broke out that caused even more property damage, much of it severe. Drywall was smashed, vomit clogged the sinks, and a knife hung from the bedroom wall where it looked like the aftermath of a javelin-throwing contest.

Pahlavan called the social worker early on. After the teen tenant was evicted for destruction of the property, the agency agreed to dispose of any remaining trash. But oddly, it refused to pay for the property damage. “That was the surprising part of the whole deal, that suddenly the unknown social agency said, sorry, we are gone, you go and deal with it,” explained Pahlavan in a statement to the local news.

As it turns out, Pahlavan only had the social worker’s name and phone number. He never took down the information as to which agency he represented, nor was a lease ever signed that spelled out the agency’s relationship with the youth and their reported involvement. It was only after Pahlavan contacted a local consumer watch reporter that he learned the social worker was from Hull Services.

The “Youth Transitioning to Adulthood” program of Hull Services is designed to help troubled youth, aged 16 to 22, transition to adulthood by helping them secure employment, enroll in school and find suitable housing. In this instance, it was the Child & Family Services Authority, a provincial agency, which hired Hull Services to place the teenager in question.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Child & Family Services Authority absolved itself from all responsibility, claiming that this was a landlord-tenant issue. They suggested Pahlavan contact Hull Services directly.

When questioned by the consumer watch reporter, John Dahl, the program director of Hull Services said, “I’ve seen the apartment… I’ve spoken with the landlord and we’re looking at covering the damages that were done to the apartment.”

For Kius Pahlavan, what seemed like a good deed at the time turned into an eviction and subsequent property owner’s nightmare. Had Pahlavan taken a few precautionary steps there likely would have been a happier ending. As a property manager or owner, always be sure to follow these steps.

4 Ways to Minimize the Risk of Property Damage from Partying Renters

Screen Tenants Thoroughly

While we don’t know the details of the teen’s background, it’s clear that landlord was touched by his story. The social worker evidently painted a picture of a young man who was on the right track. This housing opportunity would give him the break he needed to continue making progress forward. The tug on the heartstrings worked, and as a result, the landlord failed to screen the prospective tenant thoroughly. Doing so may have uncovered the teen’s propensity for destruction of property and inability to care for the unit responsibly.

Require Renters Insurance

Not only do you reduce all your tenants’ risk, but you also minimize your own liability. If the tenant doesn’t have renters insurance, you might have to pursue legal action to recoup the costs of any property damage they’ve caused. For example, if the tenant causes a fire, as the property manager, you would have to seek compensation from the tenant at fault, which could be quite a problem when the evicted party is someone like the troubled teen.

Sign Appropriate Leases

It’s possible that a traditional background check would not have raised any red flags. The teen, theoretically, could have come from a troubled family but was otherwise prepared for responsible independent living. Yet even if that were the case, the landlord still failed to craft an airtight lease. In fact, he failed to craft a lease altogether. The teen should have been named directly as a party to the lease, and any involvement of Hull Services should have been reflected therein. If Hull Services would be paying the rent, it should have been clear up front as to the terms of payment, and who would be held liable for the physical premises.

Don’t Accept Cash

There are any number of reasons why a landlord may wish to accept cash, but it is not advisable to do so. Requiring tenants to pay their rent or security deposit via check, money order, or an online payment method establishes solid proof of payment. Maintaining these records is important in the event any problems arise. In this case, it also would have provided the landlord with information as to which agency the social worker represented, who was paying the rent each month (the tenant vs. the agency vs. the actual social worker), and would have reduced the landlord’s need for having the local media investigate.

To be sure, we would never suggest that you avoid working with social service agencies that serve disadvantaged residents. It is gracious and admirable when you’re willing and able to do so—but you must safeguard your property interests too.

Read more on Legal Considerations
Amanda Maher

Amanda Maher is a self-proclaimed policy wonk who dabbles in real estate law. She holds a B.S. in Political Science and Sociology from Boston University, as well as a master's in Urban and Regional Policy from Northeastern.

Be a more productive
property manager