How do I transfer responsibility for monies owed on a terminated housing lease?
November 17, 2011 7:34 PM   Subscribe

The property manager of the house my wife and I shared with two of our friends last year has decided to keep the entirety of our security deposit and has billed us for an additional 2000 dollars in repairs. The more bullheaded of our friends wants to fight it in a litigious manner and get as much of the deposit back as he can. We just want to be done with it and pay our share of the damages. What are our rights in this situation?

We all know in our hearts that we did not deserve to be billed 4000 dollars in damages. The house was in terrible condition when we rented it. Bad carpeting job, poorly maintained yard, stained porcelain, range stove caked with nastiness. It was good deal considering our lifestyles and income levels, but we made the naive mistake of neglecting to document anything that was wrong with the place. As a result they have pinned it all on us. Our friend wants to take it to court and it's obvious that we have no case. At all. He's a very stubborn person and hates being proven wrong or taken advantage of. It's impossible to convince him to back down, even in the face of the very real fact that we will end up owing more in legal fees and court costs.

YANML but is there anyway we can offset the responsibility for this onto him? It's causing us a lot of undue stress and we just want to put this behind us forever.
posted by triceryclops to Law & Government (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How in the world do you think you have no case whatsoever? Have you talked to actual lawyers in your city?

They want to charge you $4000 for damage you didn't do, and you want to give it to them without a fight?

Have you asked for proof that you did the damage? Did the landlord have photos to prove a before and after?

Did you cause some damage, but not $4000 worth? Or did you cause $0 of damage, but just want to pay to get out?
posted by barnone at 7:46 PM on November 17, 2011 [10 favorites]

Best answer: 1) Do not even consider paying the extra amount he "billed" you for. Throw that bill in the trash. He probably has no recourse besides suing *you* which he will not because he is full of shit.

2) Your state or city probably has a tenant's rights organization that deals with idiots like your landlord every say. I bet they can advise you and maybe even hook you up with a free-cheap lawyer.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:50 PM on November 17, 2011

Best answer: DOn't throw the bill in the trash - that's part of the evidence you need.

I agree with the others - don't pay this money. Fight it; use your resources. THat's just utterly ridiculous.
posted by Miko at 7:54 PM on November 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: How long did you live there? Your state will have rules on what constitutes legitimate wear and tear, and how frequently a landlord should be expected to replace things like carpet, etc. So simply by dint of how long you lived there, some of the damage claims may need to be pro-rated or thrown out.

Bear in mind also that a lot of landlords make up "damages" simply because a lot of people are like you and will simply pay whatever number is pulled out of thin air. When you reward this behaviour, you encourage it and you hurt the rest of us. Your lunch money is for you to buy YOUR lunch.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:59 PM on November 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

There are a lot of issues in play here, but the problem that the OP is asking about involves one person out of group who wants to fight while the rest of the group does not.

I've been there... in the exact same situation, actually. A few years back we lost a HUGE security deposit, and the landlord threatened to sue us for even more money if we made a peep or tried to fight it. As we basically killed every living plant in the backyard of the house, we were inclined to agree with the landlord that we fucked up. Everyone accepted it except one housemate who went ballistic.

No amount of discussion would cause this housemate to back down, so we basically said "you're on your own, buddy". Gave him all of the paperwork we had and copies of all emails back and forth with the landlords, and told him that none of us were going to help him further with his case, but good luck -- you can keep any of our money that you get back if you win!

For a year he would bring up how he was "just about to file the papers" with venom and spite in his voice. Luckily, he never did. All bark, no bite.

Not sure what to tell you if your friend is actually the kind to follow through...
posted by adamk at 7:59 PM on November 17, 2011

Well, a similar situation anyhow. We weren't given an additional bill, it was only threatened. My housemate was attempting to get our original deposit back.

Definitely find out whether that additional bill is legal, but if your housemate is trying to get the entire deposit back when you know you messed up that's another issue.
posted by adamk at 8:00 PM on November 17, 2011

If you want out of the risk, buy your way out. Offer your bullheaded roomie say $1,000 now if he signs a contract with you saying he is taking the full risk and costs associated with fighting this. If he is right, he makes a $1.000 from you and anything he can get back from landlord. If he is wrong he loses $3,000 instead of $2,000 plus whatever costs he incurs fighting.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:00 PM on November 17, 2011

(And, sorry, I should really read these things. You claim that you DON'T think it's fair that you've lost your deposit as the house was in bad shape. Sorry. I'll disappear from this thread now... passion over my anecdote blurred my vision.)
posted by adamk at 8:03 PM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Your friend who wants to fight? Is he smart? Can you get him to research all the applicable tenancy rules? I know people who - with no provable case - have still taken a fraudulent landlord to the cleaners just because they knew what the landlord was required to do to make his claims stick, said nothing while he didn't do that, then used that to get it dismissed and counter-claimed.

There is a lot you can do if someone is prepared to spend a bit of time on the internet reading, and spend the time it takes to show up to court date if necessary. It sounds like you have a guy who might do that. Do you trust him to be reasonably competent?

Your fear of court makes me wonder how old you are. Tenant disputes probably aren't going to be expensive. It's quite possibly not going to involve lawyers. People go to court over much smaller amounts of money.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:08 PM on November 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Your friend is 100% right and you should THANK HIM for being willing to stick up for all of you. Worst case scenario? You guys do nothing (or next to nothing) and this ends up on all of your credit reports. This absolutely can happen.

Your best defense is a good offense. Yes write a letter (sent certified) DEMANDING the return of your full deposit minus whatever repairs you believe are fair, inform the landlord you are not responsible for XYZ which was broken prior to move in, plus you are not responsible for wear and tear, etc.


You might strongly imply you documented the condition of the apartment before move in, even thou you did not. Do you have emails from you or other roommates to owner/ management detailing repair requests, perhaps for things you've been charged for? Start building a file.

When this ends up on your credit report, you want documentation disputing the charges. If this goes to court (landlord suing you) you want documentation that you vociferously dispute the charges for damage you did not inflict on the property. It is likely your landlord is asking for stuff (painting, floors, etc.) that he is required to upgrade every 4 to 8 years, depending on your jurisdiction, these are the pair charges you will have the easiest time disputing.

I'm fine threatening this guy with court in your certified letter. He might back down and reach a compromise.

Your friend is doing you a solid. Back him up, for your own sakes.
posted by jbenben at 8:32 PM on November 17, 2011 [7 favorites]

In every place I have rented, there has a been a walkthrough with the landlord prior to lease signing where all existing damage is noted on a document and signed by both parties. Did you do anything similar when you moved in?

Landlords don't just get to make up imaginary numbers of how much money you owe then. You're being bullied. You don't have to lay down and take it.
posted by gnutron at 9:18 PM on November 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am not sure that this will be popular but if your friend thinks they really have a case, and a good shot at getting the new bill dismissed and getting money back, I think what I would say is "Ok, go for it. Whatever money you get back is all yours."

You increase the upside and the potential downside of their decision. If they feel passionately and believe in their case, they will see it as free money. You want to cut bait, do it; give your friend the upside of their choice to fight and their effort.

Everyone is happy unless the extra bill happens in which case the friend is in a tough spot.

Just my opinion... good luck either way.
posted by milqman at 12:28 AM on November 18, 2011

Best answer: I had a landlord try this once. Don't let them get away with it. In my case all it took was a stern letter from a lawyer on letterhead saying, basically, "You cannot charge extra damages over and above the security deposit because there are no damages and if you continue demanding money we will see you in court." The landlord, - who was an unbelievable, possibly certifiable, asshole: I mean he climbed ladders to peek into my windows and called my mother to complain about me and said he needed to recarpet the entire house because my cat had clawed up about half an inch of carpet in a corner of a closet - disappeared like smoke and that was the end of that. I am pretty sure this was just a tactic he used on all his tenants, assuming that many of them would write off the security deposit and pay extra just to be rid of him. I didn't get my security deposit back unfortunately but I bet I could have if I had fought for it. I still kind of regret that but at the time I just wanted the whole mess to go away. A friendly lawyer will do a letter like this for you for about $50 probably, call around, and it is worth every penny.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:53 AM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Hi, one-time recoverer of a wrongfully-withheld security deposit here. (I am a lawyer, so my demand letter demanding my money back was pretty lawlerly.) Read your state's property code (especially if there's a section on residential tenancies or landlord/tenant relationships, etc.) like an effing hawk. Then read whatever letter the landlord's given you and your lease and any walkthrough documents you might have signed. Then read the code again. If he didn't cross a t or dot an i, or if he crossed an i, nail him on it. Quote and cite the heck of the actual laws on the subject. DEMAND the money or else, mister.

Also, you think you don't have evidence, but I'll bet you do. Everyone has digital photos these days--you guys didn't have a party the first month you were there or people over or just take pictures of your dog sleeping on the crappy carpet? That's evidence. There has to be something like this. Don't attach it to the letter unless it's stone-cold in your favor. If it's not, just say you have photographic documentation that the place was crap-tastic before you moved in.

Fight the power, yo.
posted by resurrexit at 9:15 AM on November 18, 2011

Best answer: Something to consider, is that the landlord in a rental situation generally has to maintain the rented unit. This is why many rental agreements include an inspection and access clause, so that the landlord can inspect and maintain the unit.

Read your contract.

Now, think about this: why would the landlord let the place get so bad he'd need the entire deposit plus $4,000? That's an admission of his failure to maintain the place right there.

So, that's one legal-ish leg to stand on. Check your local codes, maybe talk to a lawyer. Draft up a letter saying you'll not pay anything over what was already agreed upon (which should be in the contract, and is implied by the security deposit). Tell him politely to forget it, and if he has any further claims you will be happy to see this resolved in court.

Landlord has nothing to lose by being a total prick to you. You are already moving out, why not gouge you for a few grand? Unfortunately a lot of people think like this.
posted by Xoebe at 12:10 PM on November 18, 2011

Two thousand. I don't know why I thought four thousand. Either way.
posted by Xoebe at 12:11 PM on November 18, 2011

Best answer: I would, at the very least, get a letter to try to fight this. I'm sure you have testimony of friends to the fact that the place was filthy when you moved in. If you moved out, and left the place cleaner than you found it, without destroying any of the walls, carpet, or fixtures, then you deserve your money back. Only you can evaluate whether or not the place was left in a reasonable condition. Be honest, and if your landlord is jerking you around, fight him both for your hard-earned money and for the next guy to rent from this yahoo. Security deposit for damages is one thing, asking more suggests you trashed the place. Did you?
posted by BlueHorse at 1:50 PM on November 18, 2011

Did you do a walk-through with your landlord when you rented the apartment? Are problems that you found then noted on your lease agreement?

If not, you're probably out of luck.

But take note: When you rent again, take pictures of everything in the apartment that isn't perfect when you move in - and pictures of the whole place, inside and outside. Then be sure you do a walk-through with your landlord and fill out the list of everything you can find that isn't perfect, then you sign it and your landlord signs it and each of you get a copy. You can give him a copy of the pictures if you like, or you can keep them for yourself just in case you ever need them.

That landlord, the new one, won't be trying to scam you.

I feel your pain.
posted by aryma at 1:25 AM on November 19, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for saying I should trust our friend. He took it upon himself to take care of it and became intimately familiar with the local laws and statutes pertaining to our situation. He demanded a walkthrough of the place after the "repairs", as was his right, and it was found that they didn't actually replace the carpets or restore the front and back yards.

Long story short: we don't owe a single cent beyond the deposit. We got the property owner to settle with us. Our friend made it clear to everyone involved that the receipts were fraudulent and that if they tried to sue us, we'd take them to court for fraud. And today I checked the property management company's website...and our landlord is no longer listed as an employee.

Thanks AskMe!
posted by triceryclops at 1:19 PM on December 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

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