How do I keep my landlord from further screwing me?
May 14, 2010 10:40 AM   Subscribe

Can I expect my difficult-to-work-with landlord to use my security deposit as my last month's rent?

I've been in the same apartment, in New Orleans, LA, for almost two years, and the lease is up at the end June. The landlord has been particularly difficult to deal with in all manners. The house we live in is literally falling appart, and the landlord clearly has no interest in performing anything but the most necessary work. I'm pretty sure they're going to charge us damages to the apartment which have come about due to rotting wood, termites, and their neglect.

The lease specifically says I'm not allowed to use my security deposit as last month's rent. The lease also has another strange clause where technically the rent is about $100 more then what we pay, but we only that extra money if we pay the rent late.

We'll have the new apparent on the 14th of June, and I don't think they'll be able to evict us before then, but I'm a little worried about my credit rating, or the landlord selling the debt to a collections agency. Should I trust them for the money, or should I trust them not to sue?
posted by Hoenikker to Law & Government (25 answers total)
I wouldn't trust them. Usually a landlord will wait for you to move out completely, and then assess the state of the apartment and then deduct any damages from the deposit and hopefully mail it to you eventually... That's pretty standard, so to expect an already difficult landlord to apply the deposit to your last month may be unreasonable.

But, it doesn't hurt to ask, the worst they can say is no, right?
posted by jardinier at 10:47 AM on May 14, 2010

Response by poster: I guess expect isn't the right word. Can I just not pay my last month's rent and be done with it?
posted by Hoenikker at 10:48 AM on May 14, 2010

Can I just not pay my last month's rent and be done with it?

Whenever matters boil down to violating the stipulations of a (ostensibly) legal document you have signed, the answer is "ask an attorney first."
posted by griphus at 10:50 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a landlord, I have to say that what you are planning to do is at least a little rotten.

However, if a tenant did that to me without speaking to me first. I would procede as follows:

Have you given written notice that you are vacating the unit? A lot of leases automatically turn to month to month. I would start charging late fees as soon as I didn't get your rent money.

My leases allow a time period (14 days) of the tenant not being around and not giving any word otherwise to indicate that they have in fact vacated said apartment. There are now 14 days or so of late fees piling up.

Plus, now you have violated the lease. In some jurisdictions you can lose your deposit for violating the lease so at this point you would owe, rent, late fees, + any damage and the deposit would be forfeited under the lease aggreement.

I would probably sue in small claim court and add court fees.

Or the tenant, could just tell me what was up and ask if they could use the deposit for the rent and I would say "sure" and that would be that.

I would go ahead and document the damage first.
posted by stormygrey at 10:56 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

This never works. Don't expect your security deposit back in full, either. Your best option is to pay and wait for the pain. If you feel you really got screwed on the deposit, take them to small claims court (or at least threaten to).
posted by zvs at 10:57 AM on May 14, 2010

The lease specifically says I'm not allowed to use my security deposit as last month's rent.

What makes you think it's a good idea then?
posted by craven_morhead at 11:00 AM on May 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sounds like you could be setting yourself up for some serious hassle if you do that. Especially since the terms of your lease explicitly forbid it. In your favor, since the landlord has been negligent about maintenance of the place, maybe he would be similarly lazy about doing anything to get back at you. But I wouldn't really count on it. I don't know what, exactly, they could do in Louisiana to get back at you, but I would assume they'll try something to collect.

The landlord may suck, but I would think about throwing your idea their way and see what response you get. This month, we're breaking our lease to move out a month early and our landlord is letting us use our deposit as last month's rent, even though we also haven't had a great experience with their management of the building. They were surprisingly accommodating on it. I suspect it's kind of a pain for them to have former tenants hounding and arguing with them about getting their security deposit back.
posted by otolith at 11:01 AM on May 14, 2010

Can I just not pay my last month's rent and be done with it?

Whenever I have had trouble with landlords that have been difficult, I have done exactly that. This has mostly been in the UK (not so litigious) and seems to be the norm in Canada (the deposit is referred to as 'last month's rent'). Sometimes I have made it clear that I will be doing this, sometimes I have just not paid the last month's rent and moved out.

I would never consider doing that if there was any danger of me being liable for damage - I have always left the apartments as I found them and fixed all minor things that I consider could be attributable to me. I also take pictures before I leave a place as a matter of course. If you feel there is any way that you would unfairly get money held back and (in all truth) consider this to be unreasonable, by my moral compass I'd take the same route and ensure my financial safety. I'd even consider a 'I don't have the money for my last rent, so please use my deposit to cover this and contact me at this address if you are unhappy with the condition of the property once I have moved out'. This shows that you are willing to pay for any damage, but makes it harder than just them not giving you money back.

Yes, it's not the moral hugh ground, but you're not technically screwing anyone out of any money. You're just making sure that they don't screw you too.
posted by Brockles at 11:03 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I did this in an apartment I was living in.

The ceiling in the bedroom had fallen in due to constant leaks some months prior and the landlords had been ignoring us completely. The super who collected the rent came around and, when questioned about repairing the damage, also said she could not get ahold of them.

After sending some strongly worded letters by registered mail and again receiving no response, we took the problem to the rentalsman. The rentalsman also could not contact the landlords.

We did not pay our final month's rent (the security deposit was the same amount). The super came by asking for the cheque and we told her we'd love to talk to the landlords about it. We never heard from them again.

I'm not sure what the law is like where you are. We probably technically broke our agreement, but felt safe doing so. Any claim against our security deposit would have had to be submitted to the rentalsman, who was already annoyed at our landlords for ignoring their communication. I felt they had already broken the lease by failing to provide adequate accommodations and I had documented this both through registered mail and through the rentalsman.
posted by ODiV at 11:11 AM on May 14, 2010

Nope. You are not allowed to withhold rent for any reason (although YMMV where you live). You're still obligated to pay your last month's rent as usual, and they are obligated to return your damage deposit after you move out and they inspect the unit (or sometimes as they inspect the unit with you). Just take a bunch of pictures when you move out. If they screw you out of your deposit, then you just have to take them to court or landlord-tenant arbitration. And like others have said, don't plan on getting that money right away, or at all. Personally, I "forget" all about that money, treat it as a writeoff from the moment I give it to the LL, and if I get it back, it's a nice bonus.
posted by 1000monkeys at 11:14 AM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

P.S. If you have communicated with the landlord in writing before about getting things repaired, etc., then be sure to have that info handy as you may need it as proof. Hopefully you also took pictures when you moved in or at least did a walk through with your LL and noted all issues with the unit.
posted by 1000monkeys at 11:15 AM on May 14, 2010

In the UK, thank God, this is standard practice when dealing with dodgy landlords.
posted by cincinnatus c at 11:16 AM on May 14, 2010

Document the condition of the place when you move out by taking lots of pictures.

Speaking as a former landlord, I hated it when people used the security deposit for the last month. esp. when they left the place a mess, or stayed an extra 2 weeks. But I certainly never took anybody to court to collect. Corporate landlords do, small landlords seldom do. I am sooo happy not to have tenants anymore.
posted by theora55 at 12:05 PM on May 14, 2010

Careful. It really pisses some landlords off when tenants do this. I've heard of landlords suing or referring to collection agencies (which messes up your credit) former tenants who did this, to recover that last month's rent, while keeping the security to supposedly cover various trumped up maintenance costs.


The lease specifically says I'm not allowed to use my security deposit as last month's rent.

this is a legal document you presumably signed, if that means something to you.
posted by aught at 12:24 PM on May 14, 2010

Not a strong citation, but in Louisiana,
You may not use your security deposit to cover your last month's rent unless your landlord agrees. All agreements should be in writing.

Note that other state laws may differ. Please review that page for the definition of "normal wear and tear", which are things that may not be charged against your security deposit. For example, termite damage would definitely not. If you know of such, carefully document it with photographs and make sure that you notify the landlord in writing before moving out. Preferentially, you will do a move-out checklist with the landlord documenting the entire condition of the apartment (again, digital camera for your own protection).

While it may be common practice even in Louisiana for tenants to leave the deposit as last month's rent, a landlord would be within his rights to sue you for it, and may be more likely to try to run up any bill against your deposit before returning (some or none of) it. It's impossible to guess what they'll do without knowing something of their history. Can you look up legal cases online and see how litigious your landlord is?
posted by dhartung at 12:58 PM on May 14, 2010

Your question is: "Can I expect my difficult-to-work-with landlord to use my security deposit as my last month's rent?"

Here's the answer: "The lease specifically says I'm not allowed to use my security deposit as last month's rent."
posted by 2oh1 at 1:10 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, it's worth noting that in many instances, local laws will set defaults that can be changed with contractual language. Here, it sounds like your contract says that you cannot apply your deposit to your last month's rent.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:11 PM on May 14, 2010

Response by poster: craven_morhead & 2oh1, I'm asking can I do this, not may I do this.
posted by Hoenikker at 1:49 PM on May 14, 2010

Could you explain the distinction? (I'm honestly not being sarcastic, I just don't understand)
posted by craven_morhead at 1:54 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, its only answerable then by parseing it into a couple of questions.

Can you go off w/o paying the last month's rent? Yes
Can the landlord use my deposit for that rent? Yes
Does he have to? No

Is it to his benefit to do this with a minimum of hassle? It depends on a number of factors including whether he has someone else moving right in, whether or not you are entitled to the full deposit back, how easy it is to pursue a small claims filing, etc.

If you don't pay the rent on time, I would expect your life for the small amount you are still there to be unpleasant. I take it very personally when a someone does something like this. I see it as "this person is fucking with my ability to feed myself". If they take it seriously as well, just educate yourself on everyone involved's rights and recourses.
posted by stormygrey at 2:05 PM on May 14, 2010

craven_morhead & 2oh1, I'm asking can I do this, not may I do this.

Well, you can do anything. Except travel faster than the speed of light or eat just one potato chip.
posted by kmz at 2:23 PM on May 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Everyone who says not to do this has clearly never lived in New Orleans! I have a similarly crappy landlord here, and I have heard that she never gives back security deposits. My friend moved out last year from a unit in my building, and he just didn't pay last month's rent. My landlord is way too lazy to do anything about it.

I'd talk to other tenants or former tenants if you can, and see if they have any insight.
posted by radioamy at 3:09 PM on May 14, 2010

Look your two choices are really:

1/ Pay the last month's rent, clean carefully, take COPIOUS photos on move out, and be prepared to go to small claims court to get your deposit back.

2/ Do not pay the last month's rent, clean carefully, take COPIOUS photos on move out, and be prepared to get taken to small claims court to get the last month's rent paid.

Frankly, I'd go with option #1 because you are way, way more likely to win when you're actually, you know, in the right.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:30 PM on May 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

If the condition of the apartment is so bad, I don't see how the landlord could find any justification for retaining any of your deposit. If you've asked them to fix things and they haven't been fixed, and when you move out the landlord suddenly needs your money to fix something you asked them to fix a year ago, I don't think your average small-claims judge would buy that. This is to say you should pay your rent and fight any withholding of your deposit afterwards. Document and photograph now, as above.

Furthermore, if the lease specifically states that you can't use your deposit as last-month's rent, it would seem that other tenants have had the same idea as you and the landlord decided to shut down that particular avenue of protest.
posted by rhizome at 10:41 AM on May 15, 2010

Speaking as an occasional landlord, I can say that just about everyone does what you propose, sometimes with a setup that includes "accidentally" paying a little later for a few months in advance. Hence the two month deposit.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:48 PM on May 15, 2010

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