How much can a landlord charge for move-in/move-out fees?

April 4, 2013 18:15 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

In searching for a house to rent for myself and my 18 year-old son, I have encountered application fees of up to $50 per adult living in the house.   They also require a move-out fee.  Is there any limit as to how much a landlord can charge for these types of fees?

Consumer Ed says: 

No, there is no limit as to what a landlord can charge for these fees under Georgia or Federal law.  If you think a particular fee is unreasonable, your only recourse is not to apply to rent that landlord’s rental property.  When deciding whether a particular fee is reasonable, you should ask the landlord or leasing company to explain the reason for these charges.

Landlords who charge an application fee typically use this money to pay for the cost of running a credit check and criminal background check on the applicant(s). This fee is usually not refundable if your application is denied.  To potentially cut down on this cost, you can obtain your credit report and bring a copy with you when you are negotiating your lease.  The landlord is not required to accept your offered report as an alternative to running his own credit check, but if he agrees to accept it you could save yourself some money.  Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — every 12 months upon your request.  To obtain your free credit report, visit annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. You may also complete an Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to:

    Annual Credit Report Request Service
    P.O. Box 105281
    Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Move-out fees are less common, but may be charged as long as the fee is included in the lease and the landlord is consistent in charging all tenants a move-out fee. If the landlord charges some tenants this fee, but not others, he might be in violation of the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discriminating against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of a rental on the basis of race, color, religion, familial status, or national origin.  If you think that you have been the victim of such housing discrimination, you can file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/housing_discrimination.

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Landlord late refunding security deposit

March 29, 2013 17:58 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

If my landlord is late paying me my due full security deposit, can I charge him interest?

Consumer Ed says: 

If a landlord is wrongfully withholding your security deposit, you may file a lawsuit to recover it.  In the lawsuit, you can attempt to recover your security deposit, interest on the amount while it was wrongfully withheld, attorney fees, and the cost of filing the legal action.

In addition to the security deposit, interest, and fees, you may be able to recover three times the amount of the deposit if your landlord owns more than ten units or uses a third party to manage the units.  Before filing suit, however, you should consult an attorney to discuss your options.

Under Georgia law, all landlords must return a security deposit within 30 days after the termination of the lease or the surrender and acceptance of the premises, whichever occurs last.  If the security deposit is held because of damage to the unit, the landlord must send the tenant notice within 30 days identifying the damage, the estimated dollar amount of the damage, and a refund, if any, of the difference between the security deposit and the amount withheld for damages.  Finally, you should know that the security deposit, and any statement accompanying it, must be mailed to the last known address of the tenant (even if that address is the vacated rental property); if it is returned as undeliverable and the landlord is unable to locate the tenant after a reasonable effort, the security deposit becomes the property of the landlord 90 days after it was mailed.

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Apartment damaged due to plumbing issue

December 11, 2012 23:42 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

My apartment flooded because of a plumbing issue with the upstairs neighbor.  My bathroom caved in, my walls and ceilings got soaked with water, and my carpet was ruined.  The apartment management was great for the first four days, but now they say I have to find a place to stay on my own dime.  They say the apartment is safe.  However, there is no carpet, the apartment is still drying out and smells, and they still have all my stuff covered in plastic.  What can I do?  (I do not have renter’s insurance, but I am now going to get it.)  

Consumer Ed says: 

You have several options, but you must give your landlord a reasonable time to make the repairs before pursuing any of them.  Determining how long a “reasonable time” is depends on how serious the condition is, and the nature of the repairs.  Based on the extent of your damages, it sounds reasonable that repairing your bathroom, drying out your apartment, and replacing your carpets might take longer than four days.  Since you’ve already notified your landlord of the condition that needs to be repaired, you have two options if a reasonable time has passed.  The first is to hire an attorney and sue your landlord for damages caused by his failure to repair your apartment.  

A second option is what’s known as a “repair and deduct”. In this scenario, you would have the needed repair completed by a competent, licensed repair person at a reasonable cost.  If you pursue this remedy, you should notify your landlord in writing that you plan to use the “repair and deduct” remedy before moving forward.  Also, remember to keep copies of all receipts, and ask the repair person for a statement detailing the work performed and the problem corrected.  Note that the only repairs you should have done are those that get the problem fixed; you cannot ask your landlord to pay for any other improvements to your apartment.  Also, be careful to replace damaged work or property items with those of like and not greater quality or value, because your landlord will not be responsible for the increased cost of such upgrades. After the repairs are complete, subtract the cost of these repairs from your next month’s rent check.  In addition to the reduced rent check, send your landlord copies of all the repair receipts.  By providing both, your landlord will be able to see that the difference between the reduced rent check and what you’d normally pay is reflected in the costs listed on the receipts.

Additionally, there might be city and/or county ordinances or codes, which regulate residential rental housing in your area.  To find out if your area has any of these ordinances or codes, call the city hall or county court house and ask for the building inspector or the code enforcement officer.  You may want to contact the housing code inspector if you live in an area with city, town or county housing or health and safety codes.  Your landlord is required to comply with any such local housing codes. 

If the damage from the flooding is so bad that it is impossible, not just uncomfortable, to live in your apartment, and your landlord has not repaired the apartment in a reasonable time, this could amount to what is called a “constructive eviction.”  A constructive eviction relieves you from having to pay rent.  To qualify as a constructive eviction, the landlord’s failure to repair must have made your apartment an unfit place to live, such that ordinary repairs would not make your apartment fit to live in again.  As with the repair and deduct option, before you pursue this route you should make sure you get written assessments of the damage, as well as repair estimates from competent professional contractors.

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