a pane in my a$$.
February 9, 2011 6:25 PM   Subscribe

should i keep my renter's deposit fee to pay for a broken window?

i rent out one of my guest rooms, in the back of my house, fully furnished, on a short term basis. the room has two sash windows, one of which is at the end of the platform bend, to the right, but otherwise out of the way. a previous renter put a fairly large crack in the large bottom pane of the window, but i had already returned her deposit before i discovered it (as the curtains are usually drawn over that window). my house is a well-preserved 1901 craftsman and i want to replace the pane with salvaged glass so it matches the rest of the windows, but it's taking time to find a suitable piece to use. the windows in my house all have storm windows on the outside so i wasn't too concerned about replacing it right away. i have had a couple of renters since the crack and have all warned them about it and nothing has gotten worse.

my present renter just moved in a month ago. when he came to look at the room, i told him about the window in case that was an issue for him and he didn't see it as a problem. when he moved in, i asked him emphatically to be careful about it, to not lean against it or kick around near it, etc. today, while i was out in my yard doing yard work, i noticed that a roughly foot-long rhomboid section of the window had cracked out of the pain (about 75% of the pane), sitting between the sash window and the storm window, leaning against the storm window. i immediately went in to alert him as i didn't want it to fall forward through the curtain and cut him or otherwise hurt him. i took the piece out of the window. he claimed that he had not been aware that this big section of the window had cracked out.

while in there, i had noticed that he had angled the mattress on the platform bed even further away from the window, even tho there was already some space between the mattress and the window (the mattress is about level with the window sill). am i jumping to conclusions to assume that he did that because he had caused the window to crack out and moved the mattress away in order to not get hurt? i have a half's month's rent deposit from him. when he moves out, should i keep the deposit? i'm certain it won't be enough to cover the cost of replacing the pane, but then again, he exacerbated a situation rather than being the primary cause so i wouldn't put him entirely on the hook for it. however, i really don't believe that he couldn't have known about the window cracking out. i really can't see how that could have happened unless he was somehow, obviously inadvertently, responsible.

how should i handle this?
posted by violetk to Grab Bag (14 answers total)
The window was already broken and likely precarious--for at least several months. You have no evidence that he broke it, and it would be shitty to keep his deposit.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:30 PM on February 9, 2011 [18 favorites]

This has nothing to do with the legalities of the situation -- I don't know anything about landlord/tenant law -- but my opinion is that you shouldn't charge him anything. If the window had been in one piece to begin with, he could not have exacerbated the situation. And I don't think there's any way to prove that he did it, either. It could just have been balanced in there just perfectly and finally broken. If you want to pursue anything, track down the old tenant and ask them to pay. Barring that, it's your responsibility as a landlord to carefully examine the space as each tenant leaves in order to catch things like that.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:30 PM on February 9, 2011

I'm confused. Weren't you going to replace the pane anyway? Maybe he at worst accelerated the need for you to replace it, but that cost should be your (or possibly the previous renter's) responsibility.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 6:31 PM on February 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You had a broken window before, and a broken window after. Pay for it yourself.
posted by inturnaround at 6:32 PM on February 9, 2011 [27 favorites]

I don't think you should keep it. He might have noticed the break and moved the bed and not told you about it, but that still doesn't mean he caused it. You were going to have to replace the window anyway, so even in the worst-case scenario where he caused the break, it's not going to cost you any more money than you were already on the hook for.
posted by lollusc at 6:33 PM on February 9, 2011

It was already broken. It's sort of asking a lot for someone to keep an already broken window from getting more broken. I wouldn't keep any of his money for that reason, but also because he's likely to contest it, which could be more trouble for you than it's worth (I know I would if I were the tenant).
posted by elpea at 7:40 PM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Agree with the general consensus, and would add that the onus is on you to fix this window immediately. In CA broken windows are usable by a tenant as an excuse for withholding rent or breaking leases. . .
posted by oblio_one at 8:50 PM on February 9, 2011

I'm pretty sure that cracked windows can suddenly get worse because of temperature changes, wind, tiny shifts in the walls etc. Probably more so in an older house. This means that:
1. it's quite possible the cracked window broke on its own; and
2. the tenant, knowing that a cracked window can get worse by itself, sometimes dangerously so, moved his bed away from it purely as a precaution based on what you told him about the window being cracked (I know I would).
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:34 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're lucky you didn't end up owing him a lot of money because it cracked on him and caused him injury!! So yeah, replace it and return his deposit
posted by Salamandrous at 5:09 AM on February 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

He might have moved his bed because of a draft from the broken window (of which he was unaware.)
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:25 AM on February 10, 2011

I think this is your responsibility to repair, given that it was already cracked. That's my ethical gut feeling: it was already cracked, you rented it without repairing or replacing, and the logical result of a broken window is that it breaks more. You have learned a lesson about making necessary repairs in your units before renting them.

I am a landlady with properties in multiple cities, I am not necessarily a landlady in cities with the same requirements as your jurisdiction, but I can tell you that in the city where I live I am not even allowed to legally rent a unit with cracked windowpanes.
posted by padraigin at 6:07 AM on February 10, 2011

So, you have two facts:

1. You have no way to know that it was your renter that further broke the window. He might have, but on the other hand, it might have just been changing weather or time or both.

2. A security deposit should be used for repairs or clean-up that you need to have done because of the actions of the renter. It's not there as a general purpose repair fund. Since you already had to replace this window pane, this renter has not caused you to lose any money. If you take his money from him to cover repairs that were necessary before he moved in, you will be stealing.

If I was a renter in this situation and my landlady tried to keep my deposit, I would take her to small claims court and then warn all my renter friends to avoid her because she's unethical. You don't seem to want to be unethical, since you're asking this question, so please, please do not steal your renter's money.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:46 AM on February 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I used to be a landlord. Holding a tenant responsible for an already broken window is not acceptable. In fact, a cracked window is unsafe, and lets heat out/cold in, even with storms.
posted by theora55 at 3:21 PM on February 10, 2011

A cracked window can do any of three things:

1. Magically heal itself;
2. Remain at the same level of disrepair for ever and ever; or
3. Get worse.

Oh, wait, no. It's only to do one of those things.

You should have repaired the window before the new tenant moved in. To rent the room without repairing the window was at the very least ill-advised and unsafe. To keep his deposit would be unconscionable.
posted by hot soup girl at 5:59 PM on February 10, 2011

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