Landlord charging for normal wear and tear upon move-out

July 22, 2015 20:44 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:  

We recently moved out of a house we lived in for two years.  While tenants, we got routine lawn maintenance, monthly cleaning service, and always paid our rent on time. When we moved out we had the carpets shampooed, the house professionally cleaned, lawn mowed, patched all paint marks, and left the house in very good condition.  My landlord now wants to charge us $30 for a new battery for the smoke detector, $90 for three door stoppers, $125 to patch paint for a small area and for water marks that existed before we moved in.  The total bill he’s giving us is for around $1,000. When we moved into the house we did not report normal wear and tear since the house was seven years old.  We left the house in great shape, and now he is overcharging us so he can upgrade the house.  How should we handle this situation?

Consumer Ed says:  

Generally, tenants are not responsible for any defects that existed when they moved in.  Under Georgia law, there is a separate standard for landlords who own ten or more housing units or employ a management agent; such landlords are required to conduct a move-in inspection of the premises, and then give the tenant a list of any existing damages or other conditions on the premises.  If your landlord falls into this category, but did not provide you with a move-in inspection sheet, he or she may not ask you to pay for any existing damages.  If you were presented with an inspection sheet at move-in, and you signed the move-in inspection sheet before you identified the watermarks on the ceiling, then your landlord likely can charge you for these damages.   Landlords who own fewer than ten units and/or manage their own units are not required to follow any inspection procedures.  Understand that your landlord must notify you that you owe for the damages to the premises; s/he has the right to sue you for this additional amount if you refuse to pay. 

That being said, your landlord should not charge you for normal wear and tear (slight damages that are the result of the renter, his or her family, and guests using the home for its intended purpose).  Only if the home or its fixtures are damaged in any way beyond what is expected for normal wear and tear should your landlord charge you for this kind of damage.  Further, the age of the item or fixture should be taken into account when you are charged for any damages beyond normal wear and tear (the amount charged per item should reflect the age and/or quality of that item as it was when you moved in).  To determine if what the landlord is charging you is reasonable, check with different home improvement or other such stores to determine the cost of the batteries and door stoppers of similar make and age.  For the paint issue, you may want to call painters and get an estimate of what the cost to repair would be, then compare that to what your landlord is charging you.  If, based on your research, you believe your landlord is overcharging you (or is charging you for wear and tear that you shouldn’t have to pay), you have five business days starting at the end of your lease to specify, in writing, the items you don’t think you should have been charged for, or to contest the amount charged for any particular item.  If you believe you’re being unfairly charged for any of these items, you should consult the Landlord Tenant Handbook on the Department of Community Affairs’ website (www.dca.ga.gov) for more information, and speak to an attorney.  


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Important things to look for in an apartment lease

November 19, 2014 15:49 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I’ve been looking for a new apartment. The leases that I have read are over 5 pages long and are full of a lot of legal terms that I don’t understand.  What are the most important things I should look out for?

Consumer Ed says: 

Your frustration is understandable.  Leases can be overwhelming, even to those accustomed to reading them.  Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs has a Landlord-Tenant Handbook available on its website (www.dca.ga.gov) that can give you some guidance, but in particular, here are some important things you should look for before you sign:

  1. Rent and length of the lease – While the landlord may have told you the basic information about the lease, it is important to get the key terms such as monthly rent and length of the lease in writing. This protects you from later changes in price or terms.
  2. Utilities – Leases can differ dramatically in this area. Determine if you are required to place the utilities in your name, pay the landlord for utilities, or if they are included in the rent. This can have drastic impacts on the cost of the apartment, so you need to know upfront what you are obligated to pay.  
  3. Security deposit – Most apartments require a security deposit when signing the lease. Find out how much this is and what will be deducted when you move out. Most landlords conduct an inspection before you move in and after you move out to check for damages and deduct the repair costs from the deposit.
  4. Termination and renewal procedures – The lease should state what happens at the end of the lease term. This includes the deadlines and procedures for notifying the landlord that you are either moving out or extending your lease. Be aware of any automatic rent increases that occur if you decide to renew the lease.
  5. Subletting and Subleasing – It is important to know whether you have the ability to leave the apartment before the lease is up. Leases are often commitments for a year or more and landlords have different rules regarding your ability to lease to another person should your circumstances change.
  6. Pets – Some landlords do not allow pets, while others may restrict the number, size or type of pets permitted. Many will charge a pet deposit, which may or may not be refundable.  Make sure you are clear about these terms and have budgeted for any additional deposit due.
  7. Renter’s Insurance – Remember that your landlord's insurance does not cover your belongings, only the building itself. If your furniture or belongings are damaged due to fire, theft, or a natural disaster, you’ll be out of luck if you don't have renter's insurance. The good news is that renter’s insurance is very affordable, and you can generally purchase it from the same company that insures your vehicle.


Even though a lease can be long and complicated, you should always read it thoroughly before signing it.  Be wary of a landlord who seems in a rush for you to sign before you’ve read through the entire document.  If you cannot understand the terms of the lease, have someone who is familiar with lease agreements, or an attorney, review it with you to make sure that you fully understand what you are agreeing to before you sign the lease. Do not leave any blanks to be filled in later.  Either get them filled in or cross through them, initial each cross-out and have the landlord do so also. Finally, insist upon getting your own copy of the lease, and save it so that you can review your rights and responsibilities should a dispute ever arise.

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Lease says landlord can keep my security deposit when I move out

May 21, 2014 22:04 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I found an apartment I really like.  The landlord wants me to sign a lease that would allow him to keep my security deposit when I move out, even if I stay for the full lease term (one year), give him 60 days' notice that I do not wish to renew the lease, and there are no damages to the apartment.  Is that legal?

Consumer Ed Says:

No, that's likely not legal.  Under Georgia law, if a tenant gives proper notice and vacates the unit without owing any rent or damages, the landlord must return the full security deposit to the tenant within thirty days.

A security deposit is a form of security (typically money) that the tenant gives to the landlord at the beginning of the lease.  It's meant to protect the landlord if the tenant vacates the unit without making required payments, or if the tenant damages the unit beyond normal wear and tear.  A security deposit can include damage deposits, advance rent deposits and pet deposits, but it does not include non-refundable fees or amounts that are applied toward payment of rent, services or utilities provided to the tenant. Application fees or deposits to hold an apartment until you actually sign a lease are not considered security deposits, and are usually not refundable if you choose not to move into the unit.

Under Georgia law, a landlord who owns more than ten rental units or who has a management agent should place your security deposit in a bank escrow account, used only for security deposit funds.  The landlord must let you know in writing the location of the escrow account.  Instead of an escrow account, the landlord has the option of posting a bond with the superior court in the county where the rental unit is located.  The bond is to make sure security deposits are returned to tenants if the landlord goes bankrupt or if the property is foreclosed.

Additionally, under Georgia law there is a process that landlords should follow before collecting your security deposit at the beginning of the lease, and prior to returning any portion of the security deposit owed at the end of the lease:

 

  • At the start of the lease and before paying a security deposit, the landlord should give you a complete list of any existing damage to the unit for you to keep for your records.  Before moving into the unit, you have the right to inspect it to make sure the list of existing damage is accurate. Both you and the landlord should sign the list of existing damage - this will show what damage existed at the time you moved in.
  • Within three days after your lease ends, the landlord should inspect the unit and compile a list of any damage done to the unit during your lease beyond normal wear and tear.  The landlord should include the estimated dollar value of the damage that he intends to withhold from your security deposit (if any).  You have the right to inspect the unit within five days after the end of the lease to check the accuracy of the landlord's list.  If you agree to the damage listed, both you and the landlord should sign the final damages list.  If you refuse to sign it, you must state in writing the items on the list that you do not agree to and sign the statement.  If you dispute the accuracy of the landlord's final damage list, you can take the landlord to court to try to recover the portion of your security deposit withheld.
  • Within 30 days of the end of the lease, the landlord must return the security deposit.  If any portion of the security deposit is withheld, within 30 days of the end of the lease the landlord should provide you with a written statement listing the exact reasons for retaining the amount, and a refund (if any) of the difference between the security deposit you paid and the amount retained.

 

You may wish to seek legal advice if your landlord improperly keeps any part of the security deposit which should be returned to you. If the landlord keeps the money without proper cause, he would be required to return the amount withheld, and may have to pay an additional penalty.

A Few Tips When Signing a Lease:

 

  • Before paying any deposit or fee, get in writing what the payment is for and under what terms the payment will be refunded.
  • Ask if any application fee or holding deposit charged will be applied to your first month's rent or to your security deposit if you sign a lease and move in.
  • Always get a receipt for any deposit or fee that you pay.
  • If a fee is refundable, ask the landlord to put that information on the receipt.
  • Remember, your written lease should clearly set out your responsibilities and the responsibilities of your landlord. It provides the best protection for both of you, so make sure to read it carefully before signing it, and keep a copy of it in a secure place.
  • Educate yourself! The Georgia Department of Community Affairs offers information and general advice to Georgians with questions about residential landlord/tenant issues in The Georgia Landlord Tenant Handbook, which can be found at https://www.dca.ga.gov/housing/HousingDevelopment/programs/downloads/Georgia_Landlord_Tenant_Handbook.pdf.  It's a good source of information and answers many frequently asked questions.

 


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