those end tables were not worth 200 dollars
May 27, 2009 8:29 PM   Subscribe

Can my landlord REALLY send this to collections?

I ended up in a really terrible situation around a year ago. I leased a room in a house. Each room was leased out individually. The landlord's daughter lived in one, and had some furnishings. The landlord was truly awful--she would come inside the house with absolutely no notice and never fixed anything that should have been fixed(the back door was bolted shut AND open to the elements, if you can believe that). To make a long story short, she's absolutely nutso and completely irrational.

Her daughter moved out halfway through the year and left some furniture. There was furniture in the house from previous tenants as well. I was doing some cleaning and donated two end tables to Goodwill. I was positively certain that they belonged to someone who had been evicted--NOT her daughter.

After the nth time of her invading the house with less than 24 hours notice(and many times, no notice at all), I told her that I was going to terminate my lease. She accepted, and I moved out two months ago. Unfortunately, during yet another house invasion, she noticed that her daughter's end tables were missing. She freaked out and told me that she wanted $200 for them since they were 'not my property' and that I was only 'leasing a room'. That was also her excuse for coming into the house--I only had 'leased a room'. I told her that if anyone was to get money for the tables it should be her daughter, and asked her to have the daughter contact me so that we could discuss it. She told me that her daughter was too upset to contact me and that she was going to send the bill to collections. No furniture was mentioned anywhere on the lease.

Can she do this? What should I do? I also have not gotten my deposit back[$250]. I have paid all of my other bills in full. Am I wrong in thinking that she has no legal room to charge me for her daughter's possessions? I would GLADLY give her daughter the money if she asked me for it. It seems like the landlord is just trying to terrorize me for calling her out on her illegal activity, and using her daughter as a vehicle for it.

I live in Washington state, if that helps. I also have two other roommates who can vouch for her invasions and lack of repairs. blergh, I am so worried.
posted by vas deference to Law & Government (15 answers total)
I also thought that I should add this: Would it be worth it to bargain my deposit for those end tables?
posted by vas deference at 8:39 PM on May 27, 2009

You can't just call up a collection company and sic them on someone else. They buy debts which means there would have to be some kind of paper trail and contract between you and the creditor and they would have to show you hadn't paid it. She's probably just angling to keep your deposit.
posted by fshgrl at 9:00 PM on May 27, 2009

While I don't think she can actually send anything to "collections" per say unless she's claiming the loss as specific damages in violation of the lease. She COULD sue you in small claims court, as you had no right to have the tables, which were not your property, removed from the premises.
posted by zerokey at 9:04 PM on May 27, 2009

She is liable to YOU if she has not returned your deposit and/or a written explanation within 14 days of the end of your agreement:
from this website:
A landlord typically requires a deposit to ensure that you will take care of the rental unit as well as comply with the terms of the rental agreement. Under the RLTA, the term "deposit" can only be applied to money that can be refunded to you. If a landlord collects a refundable damage or security deposit, the rental agreement must be in writing. The writing must be specific as to what the deposit is for and what you have to do in order to get the money back. You must be given a written receipt when a deposit is collected. A checklist or description of the condition of the rental unit must be filled out. This document must be signed by both the landlord and you, and a signed copy must be given to you. A deposit cannot be withheld for normal wear and tear. All deposit(s) much be placed in a trust account with a bank or escrow company. The landlord must provide notice, in writing, to the tenant where the deposit(s) are being kept. Any interest earned by the deposit belongs to the landlord unless another agreement is reached. This agreement must be made in writing.
The landlord has 14 days after you move out to return the deposit. If a deposit is not returned, or only a partial amount of the deposit is returned, a written explanation as to why a deposit was not returned (or partially returned) must be provided within the 14-day period.
p.s.....You are complaining about the invasions "retroactively" to justify the table situation. The time to complain about her coming and going without notice would have been when it happened not months later. However, I do think you should try to get your deposit back. I wouldn't worry about the table situation..they didn't handle that in a timely way either. The time to complain to you about it would have been when it happened. You'd be able to explain that you thought the stuff was junk/garbage. YOU are the one with laws on your side to protect you. It doesn't sound to me as if she has been operating with the proper paperwork in place. Sue her for twice the deposit.
posted by naplesyellow at 9:17 PM on May 27, 2009

Here in California, the landlord forfeits the entire deposit if they don't provide a full accounting plus all unused funds within a few weeks of move-out. If Washington has a similar law (which is common), and the LL hasn't given you any paperwork in the intervening months, you take them to small-claims and get back triple (in CA) including penalties. It's a slam dunk if this is the case. The end-tables won't even be a part of it, except for when the judge tells her she should have thought of that in the few weeks after you moved out because now it's irrelevant. No paperwork and accounting? No money for the landlord. It's that simple.
posted by rhizome at 9:19 PM on May 27, 2009

naples has the details indeed. Another thing is that you don't have to deal with collections once you get a judgment from the court. Few things have given me greater satisfaction than telling a bad landlord (who brought her kids to court and were standing next to her) that if I didn't get my money posthaste, I was going to have the sheriff impound her car and sell it for my money (which is what you can and would do). I had a check in a week.
posted by rhizome at 9:22 PM on May 27, 2009

This landlord completely misunderstands the process involved in collecting debts. First of all, to hire a collection agency to collect a debt, there has to be a debt; there is only a debt if (a) both parties agree that there's a debt (they clearly don't here) or (b) it is decreed in civil court that there is a debt which must be paid (this also hasn't happened). To collect a debt from you which you do not agree with, she'd have to have a civil judgement against you. This is the sort of thing that happens in small claims court, but it sounds as though she doesn't really seem to know that and is trying, as fshgirl surmises, to scare the crap out of you so that you abandon your deposit.

Don't be scared. You've done the right thing: it sounds like you haven't said to her, “you're right. I should give you $200”—you've only told her that you want to talk to her daughter about it.

Your goal should be to get your deposit back. This is entirely possible. She doesn't seem to understand the law, so you have that on your side. And, since she's threatening you, it seems as though this won't go away until you have a judgement on your side. Look up the rules for making a small claim in the state of Washington, talk to your friends and gather as much documentary evidence as you can, file the papers and be on time; if this woman is anything like she sounds, she won't prepare at all, and she'll be easy to defeat.

Also, two questions:

  • You say that it's probably that “the landlord is just trying to terrorize me for calling her out on her illegal activity;” what do you mean? Do you just mean that you told her that what she was doing was illegal—or did you call someone else or file a complaint?

  • Do you have a paper copy of the lease? Were you ever given one? What are the terms? If you can show that she violated the lease multiple times, then you'll have some great evidence in small claims court.

  • posted by koeselitz at 9:22 PM on May 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

    IANAL(Lawyer), but, I think there may be an easier solution than going to court, unless you want to expend even more time on this.

    Several years ago, another tenant tried to illegally charge me for stuff when I moved out of a room in a house (eg, advertising for a new tenant after completing a year lease?) and also held money from my deposit. I consulted a lawyer on campus (free for students, grad students, etc), and was told to write a letter that defined the law/with a deadline, etc, and voila, I got the check within the week.

    Assuming that naples has the correct details, you can write a similar letter. You can try the same tactic and hopefully get the money in the mail within a week. If you don't receive it, you still have the option of court.

    Dear Creepy Landlord,

    As of XX/XX/XXXX, I have not received my deposit (or deposit -250). According to law XXX, I was supposed to receive correct documentation within 14 days.

    As you are aware, by law, if this proceeds to court, I am entitled for up to (number X the amt missing from the deposit). If I do not receive this monies in full by day xx/xx/xxxx (make it 7 days later), I will take further action.



    One more last thing - if you have the envelope of the letter with the stamped date, keep that -- you can show you received this on date X, with only X amount of money, etc.
    posted by Wolfster at 10:08 PM on May 27, 2009

    I can second Wolfster's suggestions. I recently got a landlord to agree to break a lease, but she waffled about giving me my deposit check back. I consulted a free legal service on campus, and afterwards called her to tell her what I had done (so not even a letter in my case). A few days later I had my check.

    Your situation sounds a bit more difficult than mine, though. But I don't think this lady would get any sympathy from a judge if she started ranting about end tables when the case involved getting your deposit back. The key thing is to hunt out whatever free legal service you can find...things change a lot when you have that kind of backing.
    posted by hiteleven at 10:27 PM on May 27, 2009

    Why don't you just repay her the value of the property you stole and then see if she will return the deposit?
    posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:57 AM on May 28, 2009

    I think others are right about the deposit, but I have a question. This furniture, it was in a common area?

    And it was a previous tenant's (daughter of the landlord or not), and she left it when she moved out?

    Doesn't sound like the landlord's property to me. Sounds like abandoned property in a common area, preventing you from enjoying it. If one of my housemates moved out and left crud behind, I'd have no problem putting it out on the curb (and perhaps cursing at them for leaving me to clean up their junk).

    But as others have said, I think the furniture is a side issue. This is about the deposit, and I think you're going to get it back.
    posted by zippy at 2:07 AM on May 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

    I concur with wolfster--but when you send the letter, send it certified mail, return receipt. Only communicate with this landlord in writing from now on. Start a paper trail.
    posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:18 AM on May 28, 2009

    @ ActingTheGoat, I didn't steal anything from the landlord. Perhaps I didn't make this clear. I donated something that was left behind months after it was left by a tenant(might I add, thinking it was the property of a previously evicted tenant. Her daughter left other stuff in the living room that I did not donate.). It was her daughter's--NOT hers. If it had indeed been hers, why would she have left it unprotected by a clause in the lease? It was certainly never mentioned as common furniture. I don't want to pay HER for something that her daughter left behind. If her daughter had an issue with it, I would pay her in a heartbeat. Her daughter apparently has no issue with it because she has not contacted me. Saying that I stole them sounds absurd to me--"stole" has so many connotations, none of which apply to this situation. I guess that if dealing with abandoned unclaimed property is stealing, then I am definitely a thief.
    posted by vas deference at 8:05 AM on May 28, 2009

    (The landlord doesn't think it's stolen either. You don't send thefts to collections.)
    posted by mendel at 9:17 AM on May 28, 2009

    I recently settled a court case with a scuzzy landlord. Those that day "Document everything" and "Start a paper trail" are absolutely 100% CORRECT.

    Write a note like Wolfster has said. If the landlord continues to withhold your deposit, run her into small claims court. Don't waste your time with further letters as she is already in violation of the law.

    You *do* have a copy of the lease, correct? Did you provide proper 30 day notice in writing? Do you have documentation of that? I see you said that you gave notice and she accepted, but you didn't mention whether or not it was in writing. This is actually very important in court.

    Her daughter is "too upset to contact you?" Bullshit. Sue this nutjob. Document everything that you can and make a very clear & concise complaint.

    In Texas, if a landlord withholds a deposit in bad faith, the tenant is entitled to three times the amount of money wrongfully withheld plus $100. I just went to court on this a few weeks ago and the judge very sternly informed my ex landlord of that.
    posted by drstein at 10:25 AM on May 28, 2009

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