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This is more or less the first apartment I've had, so I'm figuring things out...
April 18, 2012 11:38 PM   Subscribe

I want to tell my landlord that I won't be paying any rent this upcoming month, and that he should apply my security deposit to the rent instead. Would this be a wise move?

I'm not looking for legal advice here (as I'm confident I'm in the right). Instead, I'm wondering, interpersonally, what would be the best thing to do in order to balance the landlord relationship and benefit me financially the most.

----

I moved into a room in a house at the beginning of this past month. When I moved in, there were certain repairs that had yet to be done: among them, the door frame was busted (the previous tenant had locked the door, and they had to break it in) and the bathroom sink had been taken out and needed to be replaced. I requested and received a written promise that the repairs would be done by the third of the month. If they were "not made to satisfaction or as promised," I would be "free to move out with full deposit refund." The door frame wasn't fixed until the 12th and the sink is still not replaced. Accordingly, I want the deposit back (though I don't want to move).

Note: the deposit I paid is equivalent in amount to a month's rent. I don't want to demand to the landlord that he just give me the deposit in cash -- I think this would annoy him and I would have a very difficult time, if I took that tack, of him actually giving me the money in cash. On the other hand, if I told him I simply would use the amount of my deposit to pay the next month's rent, I think I would still be in the right and this would be more effective (because the physical step of one person handing over cash to another person is always a big stumbling block).

On some level, in addition, I think this is kind of pressing -- because I think if I out the issue off a month, and paid next month's rent, and then tried to do this the month after that, he would just laugh and push it off month to month. After he did finally complete the repairs, in addition, I might have a significantly harder time getting my money back: if I kept pushing it back month to month until when I finally move, I'm afraid at that point he would come up with BS of repairs that needed to be done -- that is, stuff that even now exists, before I ever moved in -- and subtract that from the deposit (the baseboards on the wall need to be painted, there are paint stains on the floor, etc. etc.).

I'm in California. This is more-or-less my first ever apartment (certainly the first lease I've signed), and the landlord seems slightly sketchy in some ways, and I've never really navigated this type of landlord-renter relationship, so I could use some help... What do you think -- would my tactic of telling the landlord to use the deposit to pay my second month's rent be a wise one?
posted by lewedswiver to Work & Money (44 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
free to move out with full deposit refund

But you aren't moving out, so why would you be entitled to a refund of your deposit? If you want a refund, then move out.

This is like asking for a refund on a supposedly defective meal after you ate the whole thing. Or on a supposedly defective product without giving the product back to the retailer.

It's hard to see a way this would work out well for you.
posted by grouse at 11:45 PM on April 18, 2012 [23 favorites]


I don't think that works. You get your deposit when you move out. That is how the landlord covers damages you cause while you live there. If you want to get it back early you have to move out early.

You can move out and then try to immediately rerent the place without any deposit, but your landlord would, correctly, refuse to let you.

If you want to ask for reduced rent for the month or something because of all the inconvenience that might be sort of reasonable, but no way in hell is a landlord going to return your deposit but still let you live there.
posted by aubilenon at 11:46 PM on April 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think you have two options:

1) "Move out with full deposit refund"
2) Pay rent like a normal tenant

It sounds like you are trying to have it both ways - you want to get the refund without having to move out.

It's a deposit for a reason: the landlord gets to keep it as an incentive to prevent you from mistreating the property. If he gives it back to you, he has no protection from that anymore.
posted by twblalock at 11:46 PM on April 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


the way you put it, the deal was that you could move out, not that you get free rent. regardless of what landlord-tenant law says in your jurisdiction, he's going to get pissed. so no, it's a bad idea, unless you look forward to living in a place where the landlord hates you and thinks you owe him rent money.
posted by facetious at 11:49 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where I live, I'd be thrown out on the street. I hope California is more humane.

The deposit isn't for rent; the deposit is for repairing any damage you might leave when you move out. If you don't want to pay rent for a month because the landlord hasn't abided by his agreement, you've got to work that out with the landlord before you don't pay the rent—and he might say no. But in general only bad things happen to tenants who stop paying rent unilaterally.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:49 PM on April 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Your options here are move out (and receive your deposit back) or don't move, and the landlord will continue to hold the deposit against potential damages from your tenancy.

My suggestion is to contact the landlord and say that repairs were not done as agreed and, while you like the apartment and don't wish to relocate again, you feel that you should be compensated for the inconvenience this has caused you. Press, too, for a firm timeline on repairs. If he disagrees on either point, you're free to move, but that's the option--suck it up, or move on.
posted by MeghanC at 11:49 PM on April 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


(Also, a lot of landlords are late with repairs. It doesn't mean he is trying to screw you. And at this point he is about two weeks late, which isn't so bad in my experience.)
posted by twblalock at 11:49 PM on April 18, 2012


When you look for your second apartment, your prospective landlord will ask for a reference. What are you going to do if second landlord calls first landlord, and first landlord says "tenant failed to pay rent"?
posted by germdisco at 11:52 PM on April 18, 2012


I'm afraid at that point he would come up with BS of repairs that needed to be done -- that is, stuff that even now exists, before I ever moved in -- and subtract that from the deposit (the baseboards on the wall need to be painted, there are paint stains on the floor, etc. etc.).

You should document this stuff. Take photos of everything that is wrong with the place, then write it up and ask the landlord to sign a copy. You can find move-in checklists of things to look for via Google.
posted by grouse at 11:53 PM on April 18, 2012


He agreed to allow you to move out early if the repairs were not met; the part about returning your security deposit implies it will not be held as a penalty for moving without notice. This does not equate to him being required to return your deposit if you elect not to move out. You will want to check your lease, but it most likely clarifies when and under what conditions the security deposit will be returned... It probably says upon move-out. You are quite welcome to ask him for what you're suggesting, but my guess is that he has zero motive (legal or otherwise) to do so. Your options are going to be (a) move out now, and take your deposit, as agreed upon in your written statement; or (b) don't move out now, and get your deposit back (barring any reasons for withholding it) when you leave.
posted by celtalitha at 11:53 PM on April 18, 2012


OK, seems I sort of mixed up in my head what the landlord had agreed to. Yes, as everyone is saying... I would need to move out to get the deposit back -- it just seems to me that even if I move out, the landlord will then say, "look at all these repairs that need to be done" and then give me $0 back from the deposit.

So I'll be screwed every which way.
posted by lewedswiver at 11:58 PM on April 18, 2012


1) It seems like you want to factor in the inconveniences (pay lower rent) - if landlord uses deposit for next rent this is not actually a deduction, the amount you pay would still be 100%.

2) The concept of deposits is to cover any damage that the tenant causes - you keep living there and as long as you do there is a chance of damage. Hence no return on deposits or using deposits for rent purposes during tenancy.

3) Ask landlord to lower rent due to inconveniences. If you want to stay that is.
posted by travelwithcats at 11:59 PM on April 18, 2012


He knows you didn't cause the issues that led to the repairs. I think he'd give you your money back if you were angry enough about the state of the place to move out. He's banking on the fact that you, like most people, think moving is a colossal pain in the ass and therefore won't call his bluff on the full deposit refund.
posted by town of cats at 12:08 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


it just seems to me that even if I move out, the landlord will then say, "look at all these repairs that need to be done" and then give me $0 back from the deposit.

...why do you think this will happen...? This doesn't make a lot of sense; this is not the usual way of deposits. Are you actually thinking that the landlord will try to stick you with the costs of the sink and door issues? Why?

I don't think, from what you've laid out here, that you have any reason to worry about that sort of thing -- two weeks is not a very long delay and in this story your landlord is bog standard and you are trying to be a sleazy tenant, sorry -- but there are proper venues for recourse, not difficult to access, if you are scammed like that. But what you are seeking to do here is, well, scam, because you are fearful of being scammed. It doesn't make a great deal of sense as presented here. If you think this fellow is such a slumlord that he's going to steal from you, why do you want to keep living there?

Why don't you just call the guy and say "Hey, that issue with the sink was supposed to be sorted at the start of the month; can we firm up a date today for when I can expect that to happen," and follow it up with a letter, possibly one mentioning knocking a small % off for the sinkless weeks?

The "I'm not looking for legal advice here (as I'm confident I'm in the right)" + "my first ever apartment" is not a good combination; if you don't play by the rules with this stuff you will end up with an eviction notice, and bad references. Somewhere in your jurisdiction there will almost certainly be a hotline for landlord-tenant advice; use it, familiarise yourself with local tenant rights, and do not try to D-I-Y with this stuff as, well, eviction + impaired ability to rent elsewhere, if the rules are not followed.
posted by kmennie at 12:14 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


it just seems to me that even if I move out, the landlord will then say, "look at all these repairs that need to be done" and then give me $0 back from the deposit.

You said that you have a written agreement that those repairs will be made or you can move out at have your deposit back. So you have written proof that you did not cause those damages. Also, if your landlord was willing to give you written documentation that thos repairs need to be made, I doubt that he is trying to screw you (even if it feels that way). What steps have you taken so far to get the repairs completed? It's one thing if you have contacted him time and again and he is skipping out on you; it's another if you are just waiting for him to come by and fix it on his own.
posted by Nightman at 12:18 AM on April 19, 2012


You are worried the landlord will screw you over. The landlord has, at least from your description, no history of screwing people over.

You have a document that says if repairs aren't done, you'll get your refund.

Take a photo or two of the place, keep your document, keep up to date with the rent, and either move out when your paid time is up or remind the landlord that the things need fixing.

tl;dr: assume good faith and act accordingly.
posted by zippy at 12:45 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am in California. I know the laws on these issues VERY well. Surely better than your sketchy landlord. Here's my take....

"I requested and received a written promise that the repairs would be done by the third of the month. If they were "not made to satisfaction or as promised," I would be "free to move out with full deposit refund."



Your landlord is likely hoping you'll move out. Give notice and do so. He put the deal in writing? GREAT.

Small claims if you don't get your deposit back in full. That part will be easy. If it even gets that far.

---

By law in CA, your deposit can not be used for last month's rent. Period. I don't know if your landlord knows this. But if it goes to court, that would be the upshot.

Why? Because state law here trumps and weirdo agreements you make with your landlord.

The VERY good news is your landlord rented you a space that fails the threshold for "warrant of habitability." Again, if this went to court after you moved out, he'd likely owe YOU money for taking full rent on an uninhabitable space. No for reals. You could, like, report him right now to your local city or county and get an immediate inspection by a housing inspector. At that point, your landlord would receive a notice to repair the premises immediately or face fines.

---
I think you should try to work this out amicably and then report his ass if he's being at all a dick. Nothing truly bad will happen to him, except you'll have a beefed up paper trail about the space you were residing in.

(Well, unless it is illegal for him to rent the room and sign a lease with you in some way because there is some issue about paying taxes on that income he's making, or he needs to register with the city or county as a rental situation - YMMV, IMNAL!!)
---

I haven't seen the written admission and promises he made you - but do you think he is cheap, ignorant - or both?

I can't imagine why he would avoid these easy, inexpensive, and necessary repairs unless he wants you to move out for some reason.

I really think he wants you to move out.

Take him up on his offer, IN WRITING, and move.

Memail if you have further issues.
posted by jbenben at 12:52 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems to me like you're now in the position where you now effectively have a month-to-month lease and can move out any time you want to.
posted by XMLicious at 12:56 AM on April 19, 2012


Zippy has it!

Take pics tomorrow of all the damaged bits with that day's newspaper (front page and date) visible. Keep the newspaper.

Since we are well past April 3rd, you are sweet. You will have ironclad proof he did not perform repairs as promised, even without an inspector.

Try to find a new place by May 1st. It is doable! Get out of there.


PS - You can still report a complaint with your county or city and try either negotiate a portion of your already paid rent back, or take him to small claims after you move. If your rent is over, say, $500 I might bother. If you are paying closer to $100 per month - yes. If your rent is under $500, consider just cutting your losses at receipt of the full deposit refund and move on with your life.

Y'know, time/effort/cost ratio and all that.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 12:59 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


XMLicious is only partially correct - a month-to-month or "at will tenancy" requires a 30 day notice to move out.

Since you are in a technically uninhabitable space with written acknowledgment from the landlord, and written permission to break your previous agreement (lease), you may legally put your intentions and expectations in writing, and jump by May 1st.

Any flack from him or hint he won't refund that deposit? Call the city or county and demand an inspection.

You've got the upper hand, but you must document, follow the rules, and move out.

I know it's not ideal. But it is what it is.
posted by jbenben at 1:07 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


OOPS!

If your landlord gets everything repaired once you state your intentions in writing...And you want to stay on... Go ahead and try to negotiate a rent reduction on next month's rent. If you don't get a written agreement on a rent reduction immediately + repairs completed, continue with plan A.

It's possible this person is just very lazy, but that is not my read. Still, if he does prove to be simply lazy.... You're looking for about a 40% rent reduction on the following month. IMHO.
posted by jbenben at 1:12 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why in the world do you think the landlord will charge you for the damage that was noted, in writing, as having existed before you moved in?!? You seem to be assuming in advance that your landlord is crooked --- do you have any reason to think this, or do you merely think this because they're a landlord and somehow all landlords are crooks? You pay a deposit to pay for any damage YOU cause, not pre-existing damage. (And a deposit equal to one months' rent is perfectly normal.)

The deposit isn't rent, and isn't to be used as such --- if you don't pay him anything until June 1st, that will be counted as late May rent and cause you to be charged a late fee; your next payment, on July 1st, would be considered late June rent and cause another late fee, and so on.

Also: whenever you DO move out, please don't assume that you'll get that deposit back the day you leave: it doesn't work that way. After you've left, your landlord will check for any damage you caused, fix it, deduct that cost from your deposit then mail you the rest.
posted by easily confused at 1:32 AM on April 19, 2012


Under California State Law, the landlord has 21 days to return the security deposit. After that, significant fines are imposed.

The OP is rightly suspicious of their landlord because the room has a completely broken door and a missing sink upon move-in. That's unacceptable under any law.
posted by jbenben at 1:59 AM on April 19, 2012


i'm not a lawyer, i'm not going to offer any legal advice or try and direct you one way or another, i'm just going to say that i have rented many apartments in the last 20 years and

it just seems to me that even if I move out, the landlord will then say, "look at all these repairs that need to be done" and then give me $0 back from the deposit.

yes, this is exactly what you should expect each and every time you leave an apartment and you should chalk it up to the business of being a tenant in a landlord+tenant relationship. the harsh reality is that even if no real justifiable damages are done, unless you're willing to fight a protracted legal battle they're just going to keep the entire deposit (and claim it goes to things like cleaning your carpets and repainting) and you're going to move on without that money. thus has it always been and thus shall it always be.
posted by radiosilents at 2:07 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your landlord is likely hoping you'll move out.

It doesn't make sense that the landlord would have set up a situation to force the OP to move out before he/she'd even moved in. I think it's far more likely he's just a landlord who waits to be harassed before getting the repairs done, which is very annoying but not uncommon.

OP, I took your timeline to mean you'd moved in in March; others seem to interpret it as saying you moved in two weeks ago. If the former, you've gone six weeks without a bathroom sink, and clearly should negotiate for reduced rent. If the latter, it's closer to normal but still kind of egregious given that it's a bathroom sink! Ask for the reduced rent and a new commitment that the sink will be installed by x date, and then keep on being a squeaky wheel until it gets done.

And do note travelwithcats's logic above, that all apart from the protocol of how security deposits are normally handled, you are screwing yourself even to ask for your deposit to be used instead of a separately-negotiated rent reduction. You ought to be aiming for both a reduction (now) and the deposit back (when you move out).
posted by torticat at 2:09 AM on April 19, 2012


torticat makes a good point, except, the landlord is the owner of a house with a room for rent, so this is likely an some sort of an incompatible roommate situation.

That the landlord admitted significant issues in writing, but has made no move to fix them (again, these fixes would take hours, I've contracted similar repairs countless times) tells me that there is something more going on here - a lack of funds, a desire for the OP to get fed up and leave on their own, etc.. I lean towards the fact that the landlord wants the OP to move out, since the landlord provided an automatic "out" of the lease IN WRITING.

Regardless, these simple and relatively inexpensive repairs have not been addressed. This is No Bueno and odd.

Whatever is going on, the OP should not engage further. It only goes down-hill after this. The only sane move is to recoup as much investment as possible and jump.
posted by jbenben at 2:40 AM on April 19, 2012


it just seems to me that even if I move out, the landlord will then say, "look at all these repairs that need to be done" and then give me $0 back from the deposit

That's what the condition report you signed off on when you first got your lease was for. The landlord's only grounds for retaining all or part of the security deposit is to cover damage that was not listed in the initial condition report, i.e. damage done by you. If you haven't done any damage, the landlord is not allowed to retain your security deposit.
posted by flabdablet at 4:29 AM on April 19, 2012


Also, fair wear and tear (on carpets, walls, window fixtures and so forth) doesn't count as damage.
posted by flabdablet at 4:29 AM on April 19, 2012


OK, seems I sort of mixed up in my head what the landlord had agreed to. Yes, as everyone is saying... I would need to move out to get the deposit back -- it just seems to me that even if I move out, the landlord will then say, "look at all these repairs that need to be done" and then give me $0 back from the deposit.

My advice is to give him 1 month's notice that you're moving out and tell him to apply the security deposit to the last month's rent.
posted by deanc at 4:32 AM on April 19, 2012


Reword your question like this, and you'll see why it makes no sense:

I want to tell my landlord that I won't be paying any rent this upcoming month.
posted by devnull at 4:39 AM on April 19, 2012


I'm not a lawyer and these things are very jurisdiction specific, but having rented on the east coast for some time this is my impression. If you are serious about the repairs being made, the correct way to ensure they are is normally making a series of demands in writing followed by withholding of rent and/or filing some sort of petition in housing court. This is generally a drastic thing to do and if the repairs aren't something that violates the warranty of habitability then a housing court may find that you have been withholding rent without cause.

Withholding rent without notice (which is what you are proposing to do) .

It also sounds like you fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of your deposit. It's an insurance policy against damage you cause while in the apartment. Legally, when you move out, the landlord cannot 1) withhold the deposit unless to compensate for damages you caused or 2) withhold all of the deposit simply because some damages need fixing; the amount withheld has to be proportionate to the cost of repairs. People do get screwed on deposits with some regularity but generally, in my experience, not as blatantly and thoroughly as you seem to be anticipating.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 5:04 AM on April 19, 2012


whoops – withholding rent without notice … is a bad idea and it's likely to be you violating the terms of your lease and applicable landlord/tenant law, not your landlord.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 5:05 AM on April 19, 2012


Have you tried asking him to fix the damn sink?
posted by AugustWest at 5:28 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whatever is going on, the OP should not engage further. It only goes down-hill after this. The only sane move is to recoup as much investment as possible and jump.

The OP does not mention having engaged at all. The first step in any dispute is to notify the other person of the issue. For all w know the landlord has a reasonable reason for the delay. Saying clearly "this delay can't go on" is a very basic step that should occur before any escalation.
posted by salvia at 6:19 AM on April 19, 2012


In some jurisdictions, it's possible to withhold some or all of your rent until necessary repairs are completed. If this is even possible, there is a formal process for this -- you can't just not pay your rent, you have to provide proper notification, put the money in escrow, etc. In other jurisdictions, it's possible to hire your own people to do necessary repairs and deduct those costs from your rent if the landlord does not make them in a timely manner.

I have no idea how things are in your jurisdiction, nor whether not having a bathroom sink is considered a necessary repair.

You should contact your local tenant services association and ask them what the rules are where you are.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:25 AM on April 19, 2012


I have to second everything radiosilents said:

the harsh reality is that even if no real justifiable damages are done, unless you're willing to fight a protracted legal battle they're just going to keep the entire deposit (and claim it goes to things like cleaning your carpets and repainting) and you're going to move on without that money. thus has it always been and thus shall it always be.

I have never gotten a security deposit back in my life, even if the landlord supposedly claimed I'd get it back. I think it's extremely reasonable for the OP to suspect s/he is going to get busted on repairs that never got made, actually. Landlords in CA are known for shifty-ass behavior, especially to young folks with their first apartment who don't know any better, and this guy is clearly already engaging in such.

This is enough of a mess that "lawyer up" may be relevant here.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:38 AM on April 19, 2012


If I'm not mistaken, in California, if your landlord refuses to return any part of your security deposit (within 21 days, as stated above) then they are required to show itemized quotes and/or receipts detailing the repairs that are required.

This was also already mentioned, but you're not allowed to use your security deposit to pay any part of your rent in CA either, though you and your landlord might work something out to that effect on your own. It sounds to me like you need to ask your landlord when the sink will be repaired and request a rent reduction for every day it isn't fixed. Definitely talk to your landlord before you withhold any rent money.

If it were me, I'd start looking for a new place.
posted by juliplease at 7:07 AM on April 19, 2012


> yes, this is exactly what you should expect each and every time you leave an apartment and you should chalk it up to the business of being a tenant in a landlord+tenant relationship. the harsh reality is that even if no real justifiable damages are done, unless you're willing to fight a protracted legal battle they're just going to keep the entire deposit (and claim it goes to things like cleaning your carpets and repainting) and you're going to move on without that money. thus has it always been and thus shall it always be.

What? Is this a California thing? I have always gotten most, if not all, of my security deposit back.
posted by desuetude at 7:20 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


you haven't given us any information suggesting that you're not going to get your deposit back. quite the opposite.

you haven't given us *much* evidence suggesting that the landlord's trying to hustle/screw you. it's a definite maybe at this point. personally, it sounds like either laziness or relying on slacker/cheapo contractors to do the work.

what's guaranteed is that telling this guy unilaterally that you're not going to pay rent is going to get a reaction, and IMO it's 90% likely that reaction's going to be negative and angry, and 10% likely that it's going to be "let me drop everything and take care of that, sir/madam".

this is not a contract to build a high-rise. this is a landlord-tenant issue that you frankly haven't yet taken the first step on. the first step is not small-claims court or brinkmanship. the first step is, pick up the phone and call this guy, and just ask him, "hey, i'm calling about the sink and the door frame, did you know they haven't been done yet?"

take your finger off the panic button.
posted by facetious at 9:33 AM on April 19, 2012


To specifically answer your question - No, it's not a wise move.

Nowhere in the real world would that be an acceptable path to take. Move out, or contact your landlord and request an update as to when you can expect to see the fixes made.
posted by doorsfan at 10:39 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I could favorite kmennie's comment a hundred times, I would. Please re-read it.

You're not entitled to the deposit as a current tenant. In some states, there are escrow rules around deposits and the way those can and cannot be used to pay for damage caused by tenants.

Your deposit is not your rent.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:43 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm a landlord, but not in California.

Even if the terms of non-completion of those repairs weren't very specific (and not what you want to do), look at your lease. Every lease I've ever seen says specifically that the deposit can't be used for rent.

You are entitled to move out, but since you don't intend to do that this is called niggling. Have you talked to your landlord about getting the sink put in? I'm guessing not. Just talk to them.

Depending on how you phrase your demand, this is a fast track to eviction.
posted by cmoj at 12:35 PM on April 19, 2012


You have another option. If the landlord wasn't able to deliver repairs in a reasonable amount of time, you have the ability to hire a contractor to do the repairs and then deduct the contractor's bill from your rent owing. And a door to a rental room that was not secure is an immediate repair. You don't have the ability to secure your belongings in your room.

Here are steps to get your landlords attention:

Inform the landlord in writing that you will be hiring a contractor to repair the door frame and the contractor's bill for repair will be deducted from rent owing.
posted by DetriusXii at 12:35 PM on April 19, 2012


I live in California and unlike some of the ppsters here, I have always had my deposit returned to me. The key is to document everything and ask for a move-out inspection if the landlord is willing to do one.

I know other people who took their landlords to small claims over a deposit. They always won their deposits back.
posted by twblalock at 2:09 PM on April 19, 2012


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