Nip Gyp in the Bud
July 14, 2010 6:10 PM   Subscribe

What can I do before the fact to prevent or discourage my shady landlord from failing to refund all or part of my security deposit when my lease term is up?

I've been in shady landlord situations frequently enough to know that this particular shady landlord will likely try some security deposit shenanigans, despite our having kept the place spotless over the two years we've been here.

What can I do before the lease ends to put the landlord on notice and/or otherwise decrease the possibility of being stiffed for part of the cash?

I'm in Virginia, US of A, if that makes a difference.
posted by killdevil to Work & Money (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Take photos of the entire apartment before you leave (if you were really prudent, you would have taken it before you moved in, too). That way, you can respond to any complaints about "damages" with photos.

You can also preempt any bogus cleaning charges by paying for the services (carpet cleaning, etc.) yourself and providing receipts.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:13 PM on July 14, 2010

the first piece of advice given above is good, but the second should be taken with a grain of salt as there are many places in the US where this is just not doable. they'll just claim that the work was done inadequately to their specifications and charge you anyhow. texas, for example.

the fees are not to clean your apartment, and you should not expect to see them returned. the shittier the landlord, the more confidently you can count on that.

(also, gyp is a slur against gypsies, fyi)
posted by radiosilents at 6:24 PM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]

Photos, like PhoBWanKenobi said. Also, in the future, take detailed photos before and after, and, even if your landlord doesn't ask for one, I would write down everything that is wrong with the apartment when you move in, and send a copy to your landlord either certified mail, or have some kind of sheet that you have someone in the office sign off on saying they received your condition forms.
posted by elpea at 6:26 PM on July 14, 2010

the fees are not to clean your apartment, and you should not expect to see them returned.

A security deposit is paid so that if you mess up the place, they can fix it. You should absolutely expect them to be returned if you didn't do any damage to the place or leave it in need of cleaning.
You can challenge it in small claims if they unfairly take out of your deposit, and in some states (Texas, for example), you can get up to 3x the amount of the deposit if a court finds the landlord to have held back part of your deposit improperly (you probably would not get that much, but you could expect to at least get what you should be owed back).
posted by elpea at 6:28 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Definitely know the legal requirements for your state, especially the time frame in which your deposit is to be returned.

If a landlord misses that window of time to return the funds/itemized receipt, they basically give up any claim to the money. Knowing and presenting this fact (again, state specific) has 'saved' me about $2000 (really!).
posted by wrok at 6:42 PM on July 14, 2010

Aside from move-in-day photos, I'm a big fan of the move-out walk-through. Have the landlord come by on the day you move out, after you've cleaned, and document any problems they think need fixing. This cuts down on the arguments after the fact.
posted by BundleOfHers at 7:10 PM on July 14, 2010

Following BundleOfHers, the best thing to do at the end is to have a walkthrough a week or two before you move out so that they can tell you what they would ding you for, then you do the final when you actually leave. But yeah, you'll want to be there for both.
posted by rhizome at 7:33 PM on July 14, 2010

Well... if you don't need a reference, you can always short your account for last month's rent.

posted by ovvl at 8:11 PM on July 14, 2010

I know people who have written the landlord a letter as late as possible-

"Dear Sir or Madam,

I have had problems in the past with landlords fraudulently withholding deposit money. This is not to suggest that you would take such action, but to safeguard my money I have temporarily delayed the last months rent.

When we have agreed the inventory, I will of course be happy to pay in full"

We don't do references though so up to you.
posted by Not Supplied at 9:55 PM on July 14, 2010

Being informed of the exact requirements from both sides (landlord/tenant) is important. You are likely required to provide an address for contact in order to settle the account. You need to make sure you are doing everything required of you, to be within the law.

It's been quite awhile since I've had to deal with difficult landlords in the US. But in the UK, I found it paid off seriously to hire professional cleaners. But that was what pleased the independent, professional inspector. The US is actually far more realistic and laid back about this sort of thing. (aside, of course, from the nasty landlords who just want to cheat you).
posted by Goofyy at 6:23 AM on July 15, 2010

Talk to a tenant's right's organization in your jurisdiction to find out what your exact rights are. How long does the landlord have to return your deposit (some places give 30, 60, or 90 days after move-out, for example)? What is he required to provide if he doesn't return your deposit (list/proof of damage, receipts for repairs, etc)? Are you entitled to interest earned on your deposit? What are the steps you take if he doesn't return your full deposit in a timely fashion (complaint with attorney general's office, small claims court, etc)?

Knowing exactly what your rights are and what steps you can take will probably put your mind at ease a lot.

Then, yes, photos and a walkthrough. (Try to get a photo with the landlord in it during the walkthrough.) Treat the landlord as if you are absolutely certain that he will return your deposit and subtly let him know that you're aware of your rights. "Here's our new address for you to return the deposit. Let's see, today's the 27th, so I'll look for it around the 28th of next month."

If you do have to start chasing him for it, do it only in writing and send everything certified mail, return receipt.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:40 AM on July 15, 2010

In my home state of Queensland, there is a standard move in condition report that must be filled out by both sides, with all problems noted. It's then lodged with the agent. An equivalent report is done after move out.

If you check their Site you should be able to find the form. Get it, and base an inspection on it. Send it to them with photos and lots of detail, then repeat on move out.

It will show you're trying to be fair and equitable, and you're also not to be fucked with, because you know EXACTLY how clean the place is and what it was like. If you can, ask for a list of what to do when you move out, in writing. Then, if things magically appear as issues that weren't mentioned before, you have reason to dispute (ie, "Didn't dust light bulb fittings"... Well, you didn't say we had too. Were they dusted before we moved in? You didn't list it on the move in report, so no.).
posted by Quadlex at 9:33 PM on July 18, 2010

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