Renter's Rights

Chad and I let out a collective sigh of relief when our security deposit from our last place arrived in the mail yesterday. A sigh of relief and a whoop of joy, because the deposit on our last place was $4000!

During the course of moving out last month, our landlady dropped by unexpectedly at 9 pm the night before we had hired a moving truck. Needless to say our place was a wreck. She doesn’t speak much English (she’s Korean), so she had her realtor and his wife in tow. The landlady immediately began clucking about the condition of the rug.

The disgusting rug that had supposedly been cleaned before we moved in, but was still so dirty that we moved our boxes into the garage and insisted it was cleaned a second time before we moved into the house. The stained carpet that the landlady herself had told me it was time to change and that she blamed the large dog of the previous tenant.

After much heated discussion and blame throwing, we agreed to pay half the rug cleaning charge. She thought we should pay the entire bill.  We pointed out that we could spend half again as much and rent a rug docor from Home Depot and that if she came for inspection and the carpet was in as good as condition as when we moved in that she would not be able to deduct anything from our deposit.

We had done our research and it turns out that a landlord cannot deduct for normal wear and tear, that all deductions must be accompanied by a receipt, and that the condition of the house must be only as good as it was when we started the lease. Luckily, we had extensively documented stains and other mars on the walls when we moved in. Furthermore, we let her know, that if we went to small claims court that the renter has a pretty good chance of winning; not only does the renter nearly always wins the security deposit back at the very least, but s/he can sue for double the deposit.

We also pointed out to her that it was actually illegal for her to drop in on us without any notice whatsoever. Tenants are entitled to something like 24 hours notice.

A few days later, our landlady agreed to pay half the rug cleaning, but then (this, via the realtor’s wife) she was going to keep our $500 pet deposit. We reiterated the above, but Chad especially, was doubtful that we were going to get the whole security deposit back without a fight.

Considering that her son had been doing the half-a**ed of patching the walls when we first looked at the place, we figured that she had just deducted a lump sum from the previous tenant’s security deposit and then had her son (not) do the work and pocketed the cash. We were determined to leave the house cleaner than we found it (we did) and to recover as much of our deposit as humanly possible.

Don’t get me wrong, we loved our old neighborhood and the space we had at our old place. But we are very psyched to be in a place with pergo wood floors.

Chad felt a little more hopeful when he went through the final inspection with the landlady, because everything she tried to point out, he was able to show was a pre-existing problem as per the move-in inspection.

The security deposit is due within 21 days of move-out date, but August 21 came and went. Chad and I had just resigned ourselves to writing her a nasty letter, when her check and a polite letter came from her yesterday.

That’s a big WHEW, because for all our noise we sure as heck did not want to go to court.

We got $3900 back. One hundred was our portion of the $200 rug-cleaning bill. Entirely acceptable to us.

For more information about a security deposit refund, read this article at the California Department of Consumer Affairs (and good luck to you).

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