Saturday's Lincoln Journal Star contained an article about the frustrations of a landlord with the damage done by her tenants or their guests at her northeast Lincoln rental property. The description of the condition of the house sounded familiar to any police officer, all of whom have investigated child neglect reports, domestic violence cases, party disturbances, and other incidents in such surroundings.
What bothered me a little bit was the landlord's exasperation with the police, who she expected would simply arrest the former residents for the filth and damage they left behind. Oh, that it was simply that easy. In order to convict someone of a crime, you've got to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the specific individual charged committed the crime. In these kinds of cases you have two problems: proving that the damage was intentional, and establishing who actually did the deed.
It's not a crime to be an utter slob, to permit your dogs to defecate on the floor, and to throw your garbage into the basement--unless it is done with the intent to create damage. This is often difficult to prove. Even more difficult is to determine who did it. If the toilet is smashed apart and leaking all over the house, all the lease-holder needs to do is to claim that it must have been one of the attendees at the party who did it while the renter was passed out, and the police are pretty much at a loss to prove otherwise.
Such was the case for this landlord: four adults were living in the home, none of whom took responsibility for the broken windows, and there was insufficient evidence to establish who, if anyone committed a crime. Even if their had been, arrest doesn't fix the damage. Contrary to popular belief, the judge can't make a criminal defendant fix the fence. The defendant could be offered probation, on the condition of restitution, but the only hammer to enforce that is the imposition of the original sentence. When you lead this lifestyle, the threat of a couple days in jail is not as daunting as you might think.
Nor is the landlord likely to experience much success in civil proceedings. It would be pretty easy to get a monetary judgement from the lessee, but collecting that is a different matter. Have you heard the phrase, "You can't get blood from a turnip"? The type of tenant who would do such deeds, or allow such to be done, is unlikely to have any assets which could satisfy a judgement.
While I sympathize with the plight of this landlord, prevention is the only way to avoid this conundrum. Fortunately, it usually works. Require a hefty damage deposit. Do a good background check on a prospective renter. Take action at the first sign of trouble. And understand that one of the risks of being a landlord is the possibility you will eventually encounter the renter from Hell. Don't blame the police: they deal with such people with depressing regularity, and in all likelihood this isn't their first rodeo.