Landlord charging for normal wear and tear

September 7, 2012 23:49 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I am moving out of my apartment and just got a move-out inspection sheet with the following itemized costs:  Carpet - $75, Cleaning - $75, Blinds - $105, Crayon marks - $50, Damaged tub - $50. The tub is not damaged. Carpet is old (5 years). The apartment is clean. I thought these items were considered normal wear and tear. Do I still have to pay?    

Consumer Ed says: 

Depending upon how large your apartment complex is, you might.  Under Georgia Law, there is a separate standard for landlords who own more than ten rental units or who employ a management agent (regardless of the number of units owned) and landlords who own fewer than ten units.  Landlords who own ten or more units or who employ a management agent are required to conduct a move-in inspection of the premises and then must give the tenant a list of any existing damages to the premises before collecting a security deposit.  If your landlord falls into this category, but did not provide you with a move-in inspection sheet, s/he may not withhold your security deposit when the lease ends.  If your landlord did comply with this procedure, s/he may withhold your security deposit, ask you to pay for any additional damage not covered by the cost of the security deposit, and sue you for any additional amount if you refuse to pay.

Landlords who own fewer than ten units and who manage their own units are not required to follow any inspection procedures.  If your landlord falls into this category, s/he only needs to notify you whether s/he intends to keep your security deposit, and if applicable, whether you owe an additional amount for the damages.  S/he also has the right to sue you for this additional amount if you refuse to pay.  You’ll have five business days starting at the end of your lease to specify, in writing, the items for which you don’t think you should have been charged, or to contest the amount charged for any particular item. 

If these costs are only for normal wear and tear, the landlord cannot keep your security deposit. Normal wear and tear applies to slight damages that are the result of the renter, his/her family, and guests using the apartment for its intended purpose.  If the premises or its fixtures are damaged in any other way, the landlord can charge you for that damage.  Crayon markings, for example, might not fall into this category.  This is true even if the item damaged is old; however, the age of the item or fixture should figure into what you get charged for any damages.  The amount charged per item should reflect the age and/or quality of that item as it was when you moved in.  If there’s any damage to an older carpet (as in your case), you shouldn’t be charged for the cost of the new replacement carpet, but a reasonable amount for the actual damage that can be quantified.  To confirm whether a charge is reasonable, you could check with reliable sources in the flooring repair business, and get estimates from them to compare to the amount charged by your landlord.  Just know that you’ll likely have to pay this cost if you, members of your household, or guests, actually did damage the carpet.

If your landlord refuses to refund your security deposit, you may sue to recover the portion of your security deposit being wrongfully withheld, interest on that portion of the security deposit, attorneys’ fees, and legal fees in the magistrate, state or superior court where your landlord (or where his registered agent, if any), resides.

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Landlord is letting house we rent go into foreclosure

June 7, 2012 17:51 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

We have been leasing a home since July 2010.  Our lease is set to expire in August 2012.  We just found out today that the landlord has let the rental home go into foreclosure, with a sale date of July 3.  Whom do we notify, advising them of our lease?

Consumer Ed says: 

First, you should know that, until at least the end of 2014, under the Federal “Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009,” tenants have the right to stay in a foreclosed property through the end of their lease, unless the new owner is planning to make the foreclosed property his or her primary residence. In that case, the owner may terminate your lease, but you must be given 90 days’ notice to vacate the premises.  If you don’t have a written lease, if your lease is month-to-month, or if there are fewer than 90 days left on your lease, you are still entitled to 90 days’ notice.

You will want to notify in writing the bank that is foreclosing on the home of your lease. The simplest way to find the bank’s identity is to ask your landlord for that information.  If your landlord is unresponsive, there are other ways to identify the bank.  In Georgia, sale of foreclosures must be advertised at least once a week for four weeks immediately before the date of sale (in this case, July 3). Rather than searching through newspapers, you can go to this website, http://georgiapublicnotice.com, to search for the advertisement. Note that you may not be able to find who put out the ad by simply searching the address, since the address is not required to be included in the notice.

If the bank hasn’t been publishing the sale as the law requires, then you may be able to find out the name of the bank that foreclosed on your landlord by searching for the deed stating the foreclosure (it will state the date of foreclosure and the name of the bank).  Deeds are public records, and you should be able to search for it at your county’s clerk’s office by using the property’s address.  Many, but not all, counties have their tax assessor’s records online.  If your county doesn’t have its records available online through its own website, this website may help: www.gsccca.org.

Once you do find out which bank owns the home, call the bank and tell them about your lease (if they don’t already know, which they may).  Ask if there is a management company temporarily in charge of the rental home, and if so, the contact information of someone whom you can call directly if there are any problems with the apartment (leaky faucet, etc.). And, don’t forget to ask where to send your July rent check.

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Management may be overcharging for water bill

April 16, 2012 23:22 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I live in an apartment and have to pay my water bill to the management company.  My bill has risen by about $50 per month since a new management company took over.  I have spoken to others in the complex and their bills have gone up the same.  I believe the company is overcharging us.  How do we get someone to correct this?  With over 500 apartments in the complex, they could be pocketing thousands each month.


Consumer Ed says: 

Under Georgia law, the management company can charge tenants for water usage in the apartment complex, including the common areas, calculated by either installing meters measuring individual usage or by mathematically dividing the amount on the water bill among the tenants (also called allocation). Note that residential buildings constructed after July 1, 2012 will be required to have individual water meters. 

In your lease (or in a separate document given to you before you signed the lease), it should state how your water usage will be calculated.  If this information isn’t in the lease, or you’ve lost the paperwork stating how the water bill will be allocated, you can ask the management company for another copy of it.  If the paperwork detailing the allocation of water bills says that the billing will be determined by individual meters, you may be able to call the water company directly and figure out your individual usage. 

If there’s only one meter for the entire building complex, you can ask the management company to see the water bill for the entire complex (which will show the total amount for everyone).  Take the amount the complex’s bill shows for your individual water bill and multiply it by the total number of units in your complex. Then compare it to the total amount shown for the complex.  Georgia law says the sum of all the bills of the tenants in your apartment building cannot exceed the bill paid for the water in the complex.  However, the management company can charge an additional, “reasonable” fee for providing water and maintenance; this figure can vary by unit, simply because there may be more people in one unit as opposed to another.  Unfortunately, the law does not provide any way of calculating just how much would be considered “reasonable”.  A safe guess is that surcharges totaling at least half or more of your actual water bill may be excessive but, again, this isn’t written in stone.  If you decide to sue, it would be up to the court to decide whether the surcharges are reasonable.  We should point out that making these threshold calculations will rest on your ability to get the complex’s total water bill from management; you may or may not have the right under the lease to be shown anything except your own water bill, so if management resists showing you the entire bill, it may be difficult to force them to do so. 

Even if the management company refuses to give you the total water bill for the entire complex, you can still estimate the total usage, if you know where the water meter is located for the complex (please note that this would be an estimate, and may not reflect actual usage over a month).  To figure out the apartment’s water usage, read the meter at the same time, two days in a row.  Subtract the first day’s reading from the second day’s reading to see how much the complex uses in a day; repeat, including weekends and weekdays, then calculate the average reading.  With this rough estimate, you can see how it compares to your water bills and the allocation documents. 

Remember, generally your rights are determined by the terms in your lease and/or whatever document outlines how the water bill will be calculated.

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