Dear PoP – Another Tenant issue question

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“Dear PoP,

When a landlord determines that there has been damage that needs repair, what is his or her responsibility to defend the expenditure of the security deposit? Must he or she provide documentation of the damage caused and the repair costs? What if any laws are in place to protect tenants from landlords who abuse their security deposit and to ensure the deposit is used only for legitimate repair purposes?”

Anyone ever dealt with landlords using your security deposit before?

17 Comment

  • Usually a receipt for the repair or a quote from a reputable contractor would be proof in court. There’s no requirement that you take the cheapest quote. Your charges would just have to be reasonable –reasonable for someone who’s hiring someone to fix the problem professionally. Not reasonable for someone to go down to home depot and fix the problem themselves.

    If it’s a replacement issue, then you’re going to have to get into depreciation issues.

  • A friend of mine in real estate told me that if you don’t want to deal with a landlord taking your security deposit, just don’t pay the last month’s rent. That way if there is damage, he has to work things out with you and can’t just use carte blanche discretion.

    • Yes, great. On top of the damage a tenant did to the place, he also should violate the lease agreement and by not paying rent or completely defeating the purpose of the security deposit, which is both to provide the landlord security and to incentivize a tenant to take some care for the place, lest he lose the deposit. Either way, that’s using the default assumption that the landlord is always the bad guy to work a screw job on him.

      Perhaps that is practical advice that works in a lot of cases to get a tenant-favorable result, but once that decision is made, I’d say it’s pretty hard to say the landlord is the bad guy, and it greatly reduces the chances a tenant would have if sued. Moreover, the end effect of enough people doing that is that landlords will just start to charge two months’ rent as deposit, no? And it pretty much ruins your rental recommendation for the next place.

    • collection agencies and your credit history will love that tip.

  • Sorry, NOT my +1 was for Anonymous above. If you don’t pay your last month’s rent you are breaking the lease, you lose any chance of a good recommendation, and you could get sued.

  • DC Municipal Regulations Title 14, Chapter 3:


    309.1 Within forty-five (45) days after the termination of the tenancy, the owner shall
    do one of the following:

    (b) Notify the tenant in writing, to be delivered to the tenant personally or by certified mail at the tenant’s last known address, of the owner’s intention to withhold and apply the monies toward defraying the cost of expenses properly incurred under the terms and conditions of the security deposit agreement.

    309.2 The owner, within thirty (30) days after notification to the tenant pursuant to the requirement of

    § 309.1(b), shall tender a refund of the balance of the deposit or payment, including interest not used to defray such expenses, and at the same time give the tenant an itemized statement of the repairs and other uses to which the monies were applied and the cost of each repair or other use.

    • +1. If you dispute this, you take the landlord to Small Claims (one of the boxes on the claim form is for Security of Deposit).

  • Did you do a walk-through with the landlord before moving in to assess the condition and again before moving out? Did you in fact cause any damage? Then pay for it. Was there damage that you didn’t cause but also didn’t tell the landlord about in time for him or her to do something about it?

    If you did cause damage but think the landlord is charging outlandish repair costs (i.w. you knocked a small hole in the drywall and they want to dun you $1,000.00) then you can go to small claims court. It is cheap and easy and if you win a judgment you can garnish their next tenant’s rent to collect.

  • From my perspective, I always to a pre-movein walkthrough and give a week to report any damages. Both of us sign of on that sheet, then at move-out repeat. Condition apt should be left in should be listed in the lease.

    That being said, leaving 1/4″ grease on the stove due to never cleaning, and shoving half your silverware down the garbage disposal does not fall under normal wear and tear. Use common sense, clean up, make an honest attempt to leave the unit in the same shape as when you moved in. Scuffed walls, worn carpet, an extra stain or two is expected. Treating it like a dump is not.

  • Back in my renting days, I was an excellent tenant — timely with rent, clean, neat, quiet, helped out with small tasks around the building, but was otherwise not demanding. Which is why it so stuck in my craw when my landlord kept part of my security deposit for things I most certainly considered normal wear and tear — cleaning the carpet (which was not noticeably stained or dirty) and replacing the furnace filters! I debated this with her endlessly, cited the terms of the lease, etc., but I eventually gave up, choosing to take the balance of my deposit rather than fight for the $100 or so that she kept. Ten years later, I am still irritated about that. She had no grounds, but in the end, I had no fight, so she won.

    • ten years later you’re upset about $100? Do you get paid more or less than $50 per hour these days?

      • I’m irritated when the parking meter eats my quarter, and that’s simple mechanical failure. Getting cheated and exploited, yea, that’ll keep me going for a bit.

    • Ugh, furnace filters are one of my pet peev’s. It’s always in the lease, replace every so many months. I usually leave a year’s supply in the place. Please, please change the filters.

      Why isn’t the heat/air working? Because you can’t pull air through an inch of packed dirt, thanks for burning out the blower motor.

      If you want to be selfish, it also cuts down on your utility bills!

  • I’d say go the small claims route if it’s over $250. You can also use the action as a way to lump in any other expenses you have incurred, like vermin traps, that could be construed as arising from inattention or inactivity by the landlord.

    I moved out of a place and had a chunk deducted out of the security deposit because I had busted an access panel to shut of the shower when the hot water valve stuck open. The landlord had the panel replaced with the world’s most expensive piece of masonite.

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