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by James Safonov

landlord helpWhen processing security deposit dispositions you must keep in mind what the law allows the deposit to be used for. Damages and unpaid rent are all you may use the funds for.

Damages are the gray area when handling deposit refunds. Some items are obvious such as holes in walls, broken doors and trash hauls. Other items are not as easy such as wear and tear to counters and cabinets.

To make things worse, many liberal judges are incredibly tenant friendly allowing the tenants to recover much of their deposit money for items that historically are tenant costs: carpet cleaning after a long tenancy and broken blinds and or screens.

The best advice I can give is to document the condition of the property as well as possible before and immediately after the tenant moves in and out. Have the tenant sign an amend sheet to be turned in within a few days or a week of their move in. This amend sheet allows them to amend the landlord or manager’s move in inspection notes. If there are charges made to the deposit make sure to keep invoices documenting the work done. If and when the previous tenant disputes the charges make sure they put their dispute in writing. Use writing for all correspondence–if a phone call was made document the spoken information in a follow up letter or email.

Small claims court is time consuming and frustrating. Around here, court dates are set for either 8:30 am or 1:30 pm–those calendars do not start on time and your case will not be heard for several hours past that time. If you are adamant your charges are valid it will make the time you spend in court more tolerable. If you are on the fence about some charges–I strongly encourage you find some common ground and settle. Most property management companies do not include small claims court as part of management. Owners are sued by tenants based on charges made by the owner. Attending and testifying is often billed out on an hourly basis. This may also factor in a decision to settle with the tenant if the charges are not as clear cut. If you must go to court make sure you are well prepared and opt to bring vendors to testify on your behalf to strengthen your case when larger jobs are needed.

James Safonov, is a  property manager with HomePointe in Sacramento, California,   jsafonov@homepointe.comHomePointe provides full service property management, leasing, accounting, and maintenance.

See another tip from James Safonov, Landlord Quick Tip.

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  • Georgia Schilk

    Many crts are tenant friendly/sympathetic. Washington,DC is one of many. Documentation is critical. Take 6 mp “digital” photos (photo dates/time are part of the digital package) before tenant moves in. Provide tenant with CD copy and have them sign for it. Give a check in list and make sure they sign it. Write into lease “check up” dates for every 6 months. Where you review the property for inconsistentcies and notify tenant 30days in advance of the walk-through. Most importantly know your city’s/town/districts landlord and tenatn laws. Remember Your idea of upkeep/cleanliness/damage is not necessarily the tenants or courts idea of the same.

    We have found credit histories/references check/employement history verification etc. is a great way to get an idea of how a tenant manages their responsibilities.

    At the 1st sign of non payment take action don’t wait. This maybe a precursor to furture trouble including damage or neglect to your property.

  • cobbgirl

    Evicting a tenant poses another problem. In Ca. we have a pre move out inspection so the landlord can tell the tenant what needs to be done to get deposit back. With evictions that is not available. I have gone to small claims and the tenant always wins and I waste my time which is valuable. I have evicted a chronic liar whose lies were believed by the mediator, yes all cases go to mediation in lake co. She neglected to report things that were not working such as a leaking faucet which flooded septic and a heat pump which wasn’t working. Then she used this to say the unit was not habitable. She got another 30 days to move out. Carpets wrecked by non allowed cats, faucet damaged by tenant, garbage disposal broken reset button, nicotine covered walls from smoking in non smoking unit, drapes torn by cats, fans chains broken off, etc. I just listed all the damages and sent her a deposit check. No use deducting as she would be back in court saying was like that in spite of a move in check list. the CD is a great idea as a video but a move in list is needed to indicate applicances work, plumbing works. My suggestion require repair requests in writing and repairs be be signed off by tenant so they can not say it was not fixed. Get a good attorney mine was a dork.

  • Document, document, document. Every day we here about tenants getting the best of landlords and of courts that throw logic out the window to give a fair shake to the unprotected tenant. Yet we consistantly don’t take responsibility for own actions. Make lists and take photos before, during and after the tenancy. Get written statements from contractors and be willing to back up your charges. You have no choice today;do it right or you will lose both your time and money.

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