Deciding to become a rental property owner in San Francisco is one of the biggest decisions a person can make and it requires a tremendous amount of responsibility. A situation any landlord can encounter is the possibility of being sued by a tenant.

Generally, property owners are sued in small claims court by tenants over security deposit issues at the end of the tenancy. The case is usually heard by a commissioner or judge where the landlord and tenant will present their case with any documentation or evidence. One of the ways to help prevent this scenario from occurring at all is to simply start off on the right foot and set your expectations as the property owner at the beginning of the tenancy. Although you want to keep a friendly, approachable persona it’s best to treat the property and tenant like the business that it is by always maintaining a professional attitude and demeanor.

Before you give your tenant possession of the property make sure it is ready for move-in. One of the best ways of doing this is by going through the rental unit yourself and completing the same move-in/move-out checklist that your tenant will complete once they receive the keys. We also highly recommend taking photos and/or creating a video at this time documenting the condition. Pictures are a key component to proving the condition of a rental unit before tenant possession.

During the course of tenancy if any problem is reported by the tenant it is best to deal with it on the spot. Whatever the matter of concern may be – a landlord’s best friend is documentation. Keep a paper trail by holding onto all documents, copies of the leases, receipts and save any form of communication made between you and the tenant. As the tenant’s lease comes to an end they may request a initial inspection of their unit in order to learn what may need fixing and/or cleaning prior to their move-out. In California, should the tenant request this initial walk-through, it must take place in the last two weeks of their tenancy.

Once your tenant moves out it’s time to conduct the final walk-through for any damages and needed repairs. Refer to the initial move-in/move-out checklist when you are examining the unit and document all changes on this form and with photos and/or video. When there are damages and needed repairs, complete the work immediately so you can get the unit on market as soon as possible and also to finalized the charges for the tenant’s itemized disposition of security deposit. Be sure to save all documentation and receipts provided by vendors used and deduct the cost from the security deposit.

This is when a dispute can occur between a landlord and their tenant. The tenant is usually unhappy they were charged for the damage and will take you to small claims court this is where you will need to defend your case of why you deducted money from the tenant’s security deposit. According to Property Management Systems, based in San Francisco, the best thing you can do for yourself is have clear documentation, copies of all receipts, and color photos and/or video from the inception of tenancy to show to the judge. You will have a better chance of proving your case, because as the saying goes, a picture is truly worth a thousand words.