What can we do legally if former tenant's trashed out house?
My husband and I were renting out our house. We still owe a mortgage on it and the tenants moved out over night without notice. They left the house completely trashed. There is graffiti on the front porch and paint splattered all over the front of the siding. There is trash (literally trash) all over the screened in back porch, and back yard. They signed a contract saying inside pets and smoking were not allowed and they had an enormous dog inside that has completely ruined the carpet as well as they smoked inside and the smell and smoke stains are horrific.
You can sue the tenants for the damage/cost of repairs not covered by the security deposit. Also, since the tenants moved out without notice, the tenants remain liable for the rent for the balance of the term of the lease or until the house is re-rented to a new tenant.
You will need to mitigate (minimize) damages by having the repairs done by companies whose charges are comparable to others in the area. If you were to select the most expensive companies to do the repair work, your damages (the amount you are seeking to recover in a lawsuit against the tenants) would be reduced accordingly.
You will also need to mitigate damages by making reasonable efforts to re-rent the house. Reasonable efforts would include what other landlords in the area are doing to attract tenants such as posting a sign on the premises advertising the available rental, advertising the rental in the newspaper ads, advertising in local rental guide, etc. You don't have to use all these methods of advertising, but just make reasonable efforts to attract a new tenant. If you were to allow the rental to remain vacant for the balance of the term of the lease of the former tenants, your damages would be reduced accordingly. If the house is re-rented and due to market conditions, the rent is less than what the former tenants were paying, the former tenants remain liable for the difference in rent for the balance of the term of their lease.
If you get a court judgment against the former tenants, it would be advisable to also obtain a wage garnishment to enforce the judgment because given their track record of moving without notice, etc., they might not pay the judgment.
If you don't know the present whereabouts of the former tenants, they can be served by publication. Service by publication means running notice of the lawsuit in the legal notices section of the newspaper. Even if the former tenants don't see the notice, it is still effective service of process. A court clerk can tell you how long the notice has to run in the newspaper to comply with the rules for service by publication. The time period varies from state to state.
If you know where the former tenants now live or work, you will need to have them personally served (process server) and won't be able to serve them by publication.