If the tenant takes you to small claims, the judge will order the return of the late fees, regardless of what your lease agreement says, or even what the law allows.
The judge will allow you to deduct prorated rents (usually).
Late fees and fines always fall on deaf ears in court.
That said, it’s really good to take move-in pictures, with the tenant standing in all your photos waving hi. You can have some fun with this, because the tenant thinks it protects him. It actually protects you.
After the tenant moves out, you show the before and after shots of the house, and the tenant just walks. In court, the judge will rule in your favor, after seeing the photographs.
This works every single time. Tenants NEVER leave the place the same as they found it. There’s hardly ever a time when there’s only wear and tear.
Tenants use up what you offer, until they get sick of themselves, and then want to move to someplace else to ‘use up.’ That is, if they don’t have something to lose.
The tenants with enough to lose (not including a cosigner breathing down their necks) are often desperate to get their money back from me. By the time our exit walk-through arrives, their eyes are bloodshot and their fingers are raw to the bone from scrubbing and cleaning.
The place is spotless, and I can see through the windows. The appliances are all shiny, and it’s all a beautiful thing.
In your case, if your tenants only gave you five hundred dollars, and you could only justify ‘keeping’ one hundred dollars, which included late fees and pro-rated rents…this would indicate that your tenants took pretty good ‘care of YOU.’ I don’t know.
They’re already out, so forgive the late fees, but keep the pro-rated rents. It’ll represent a small triumph for your tenants, and keep you from getting all tripped up over ‘nothing.’ :beer :beer