The Better Business Bureau reported that property management companies received one of the highest number of consumer complaints in Idaho. Almost all of those complaints were security deposit disputes. This seemingly simple problem plagues tenants and the property management industry.
The Post Register posted a story on one such dispute on Saturday. The familiar problem was a tenant that felt they had been dealt with unfairly by a landlord. The tenant didn’t believe they had received a fair security deposit refund. As is common, when the layers peel away the landlord and the tenant disagree on normal wear and tear.
From a tenant’s perspective, they shouldn’t be charged for normal wear and tear. Examples of wear and tear include carpet cleaning, minor wall repair, and mineral deposits in the toilet (attorney general details). It’s not uncommon for a property manager or a landlord to hear, “We spent 4 hours cleaning that stove,” or “that was damaged when we moved in.” If a tenant leaves an apartment reasonably clean, he or she should receive their full deposit back. Tenants need to remember that the time they spend on cleaning is irrelevant. The condition of the property is all that matters.
Is it not reasonable to have a property returned to the same condition as it was taken in? Most property managers and landlords in Idaho Falls ask tenants to pay for carpet cleaning and housekeeping out of the security deposit. This seems reasonable if it is disclosed up front. Landlords need to remember that tenants are not required to return the property to the same shape that it was rented. When property managers and landlords withhold security deposit money to fund normal wear and tear items they are exposing themselves to unneeded risk. Withholding security deposit funds to clean carpet or repair other minor wear and tear items is illegal in Idaho.
Several steps can help property managers and landlords avoid miss-communication and breaking the law:
- Complete specific move in and move out condition reports. Include pictures or video.
- If you are going to charge a tenant for carpet cleaning or other normal wear and tear items, do not call it security deposit.
- Provide move out information packet when tenants give notice that they are moving out.
- Remember that the tenant is the customer. Happy customers foster a good business. An error on the generous side is far less costly than an error on the stingy side.
- Give the tenant a way to contest charges. Remember to always ask the tenant to provide the contest in writing. This will give you time to consider whether it was a mistake or your part or whether you can defend your decisions.
- Be prepared to go to court. Sometimes, even when you are extremely reasonable, previous tenants will think you were unfair and sue you. Be prepared to defend your choices to a judge. All communication should be in writing.
Steps for tenants to follow to ensure fair treatment.
- Ask for a copy of the move in condition report. If the landlord did not complete one, complete one of your own. Include pictures and video. Do not wait! Do it right when you move in. Provide a copy to your landlord.
- Read and understand your lease agreement. Ask an attorney if you have questions.
- Follow all terms of your lease. Some leases require full forfeiture of deposit in the case of a lease violation.
- Always communicate in writing. Give your thirty notice to move out in writing. Keep a copy of all of these communications. Sometimes the best relationships can go awry.
- If you believe your previous landlord has unfairly retained your security deposit, stay calm and make a request in writing.
- If all communication fails, and you are unable to agree on an amount with your landlord then go to the county and file a small claim. Remember even though you don’t have an attorney, court can be intimidating and a time waster. Make sure the amount of the disagreement is worth the time it will take you in court.