Making Sure I Get the Security Deposit Back
April 2, 2013 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Just moved into a new apartment. YAY! The apartment is in terrible shape. Boo. Our move-in condition form has the following clause, "I understand that the management company has also performed an inspection of the property, including digital photographs of all areas, and said report will prevail in any instances of conflicts." They will not show me their inspection report. How do I ensure that theirs doesn't say that everything is fine, and we get dinged for a whole ton of stuff that's already bad. Jurisdiction: Chicago.

We were planning on preparing a detailed report, with photos, and notarized for the date. Will this be enough to counter any claims in their current inspection report? Can I just scratch that sentence off the form before sending it in?
posted by hwyengr to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's a good start. Be as nit-picky as possible! Little scratches in the countertop, peeling up vinyl flooring, stained carpeting, dings in the wall--EVERYTHING!

If you can, take it to the rental office and have someone there sign it.

Don't sign the move-in condition report, send back a note, with YOUR report, and say, "once I see a copy of your digital photographs, I will sign this form." Or draft your own version of their report, omitting that sentence and send it back to them. Keep a copy for yourself.

I"m already on edge and frankly, I'd either make them bring it up to snuff, or I'd decline to move in.

I was watching People's Court this morning and a tenant called the town to have the building inspector come by to do a report, if there's anything questionable (electrical, leaks, bugs) call the city and see if they'll give you a report. (The tenant won back her security deposit and rent that she had paid based on the place being uninhabitable.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:05 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Take your own photographs and video. Show the front page of the newspaper to prove the date, and/or mail hard copies of the photos to yourself via Certified Mail, along with your dated "Punch List" of items that are in disrepair. Do Not Open The Envelope. File it along with your lease until such time that you need to prove the condition of the apartment.

My son just moved into a rental house and there are numerous things that should have been repaired before they moved in. Now he says they won't fix anything that costs less than $100 to fix/repair. Going in to a new rental home, you should start at 100%, or as close to it as possible. Starting out with patio slider screens that don't slide, numerous burned out light bulbs, a filthy shower, etc, etc is wrong (my son's situation), so I had them document Everything and if they bitch about the dirty shower, bad bulbs, etc, well, that's how the place was handed to them, so that's how it will be returned.

Document. Document. Document.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 12:10 PM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Do your own report, but do you have to sign the form? You said you already moved in. What are they going to do if you never sign it and send it in?
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:21 PM on April 2, 2013

Response by poster: or I'd decline to move in.

Sadly, that ship has sailed. That was our original intention, but our back-up plans fell through for temporary housing.

Long distance, sight-mostly-unseen moves suck.
posted by hwyengr at 12:22 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

The photos you take, including the newspaper, should be mailed to yourself using certified mail and left unopened and also mailed to the landlord with the form.

Your move-in condition form should strike off that clause, or add a clause saying that management will provide you with the photos within 48 hours of receipt of this form or your photos will prevail.
posted by jeather at 12:26 PM on April 2, 2013

Did you already sign the move-in condition form? Or are you trying to figure out what to do with it? I'm hoping it's the latter.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:30 PM on April 2, 2013

Send them a certified letter requesting the inspection report and photographs, so you have something on paper that says you asked. Then do your own walkthrough, taking pictures and making notes.
posted by rhizome at 12:44 PM on April 2, 2013

You could also get a printed version of your report notarized for proof of date. Many local bank branches do this for free if you are a customer. Newspapers are not really strong security for the future, as you could just save the one from when you moved in and use it in pictures later.
posted by procrastination at 1:11 PM on April 2, 2013

They will not show me their inspection report.

If you're already in the apartment, but have not signed the move-in condition form, I'd tell them you won't sign it without seeing that report, and refuse to budge.

For what it's worth, I've never had any money withheld from my deposit in Chicago, even when I probably should have. My understanding is that Chicago law is very favorable to tenants in this area. (Which is probably why they want you to sign away the rights it provides you by agreeing to be bound by a secret report they won't show you!)

The Metropolitan Tenants Organization Tenants' Rights Hotline is my go-to place for questions like this. It is free and the volunteers are knowledgeable
posted by enn at 1:50 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

This varies A LOT from state to state, but i'd google "washington landlord tenant act" or whatever.

Why? because this is blatantly illegal in my state, despite some landlords still trying it. At least here, and anywhere else(even canada!) that i've done any research on it you need to do a walk through together that you both sign off on right then. They can take photos, you can take photos, but you both have to be simultaneously present and agree upon a(usually written) list of damage in person.

We were planning on preparing a detailed report, with photos, and notarized for the date. Will this be enough to counter any claims in their current inspection report?

Probably, but expect to have to go to small claims court over this when you move out. I'll bet the previous tenant walked on the bill that went above and beyond their deposit, and the landlord is pretty much renting it as is with the intention to shaft you for it when you move out. But then again, i'm really cynical after both having a bunch of shitty landlords, and my parents being landlords at a large apartment complex for a while...

Oh, and for fucks sake make sure you are REALLY thorough with this. hell, bring over an really meticulous friend to look for stuff too and buy them a six pack after or something. I've had landlords try and pull bullshit like "large chip in tile floor slightly under stove, had to replace entire tile floor" even though it had obviously been there forever, or at least before i moved in. You really need to get EVERYTHING even if it's an old building and the stuff is obviously painted over damage from 30 years ago.

Do your own report, but do you have to sign the form? You said you already moved in. What are they going to do if you never sign it and send it in?

Do this. Say you're not signing it without seeing all the photos, and DEFINITELY still take all your own photos.

I'd also add as a final anecdote that i never signed a move in report like this, in a very similar shady situation, and their response was just to make one up and neglect to mention we had never signed it. They put a few tiny things like "bent towel rod" and left out all the major, existing and normal wear and tear damage(ie "scuffing on hardwood floor, please). Which of course they tried to bill me for. Despite the fact that i had photos, they simply sent the bill to collections and lied saying they had repeatedly tried to contact me to get me to pay it. I seriously didn't even know they had done anything beyond keep my deposit(which wasn't large, so i figured it wasn't worth taking time off work to fight, etc) until i started getting calls from a collection agency.

Shady fuckers will be shady fuckers. You are more than likely in for a pain in the ass when you move out, that will likely have to be settled in small claims. They will more than likely be told to get bent with their ridiculous "you don't get to see the photos, we get to decide the entire condition ourselves" thing but it'll still waste your time and be a pain.
posted by emptythought at 2:02 PM on April 2, 2013

Definitely make your own report; document everything, take pictures of everything, and send that to them certified all with the help of a friend or family member, and keep a identical copy of what you sent, yourself. Also, add any future contacts you have when something breaks etc.

I had a shady property management company pull something on us, I demanded to meet in their office to discuss it and brought a friend and my binder. Once they looked over the first 5 or so pages of the binder, the dude cut a check right on the spot.
posted by couchdive at 2:33 PM on April 2, 2013

The above suggestions about making your own report with photos (punch list) and sending it to both yourself and your LL are good. If you haven't signed the form yet, include a letter stating that without seeing the contents of their report, you cannot sign the form. Now, both of these suggestions might cause friction right at the start of your lease. The LL might be less defensive if you were to request a walk-through with the LL or management representative, during which you compile a move in condition report together.

Here is a link to a summary of the Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (PDF), which should help shed some light on your rights. If this is not a smaller owner-occupied building but you are in Chicago proper, this summary must be given to you as part of your lease, otherwise your LL is already in violation of the law. The RLTO is very specific about how your LL must handle any deposit held more than six months - you must receive a receipt, it must be kept in a separate interest bearing account (not the same one your rent checks go in to) and you are to receive the bank's info, interest is payable to you annually at a rate set by the city, damages must be itemized in writing within 30 days of move out, and the deposit must be returned within 45 days of your move out. Violation of any of these provisions (except a shortage of interest) entitles you to twice your deposit amount. Keep an eye on the earlier provisions, like the receipt, account in which your payments are deposited, and your interest payments, as this could be used as leverage at the end of your lease if this move in report turns out to create a problem when you do move out.

Feel free to memail me if you'd like - I don't know everything about residential rental law, but do work in accounting on some residential properties in Chicago, so I might be able to do some more specific research if you need more info.
posted by youngergirl44 at 11:53 PM on April 4, 2013

Response by poster: New Development! The management company has agreed to repair the most egregious flaws with the unit; the contractors are coming early next week. I still haven't signed or sent in the condition report (we originally had 7 days, which comes up on Monday). Should I wait until the repairs are complete, or should I submit what we have, then do another inspection afterwards?
posted by hwyengr at 9:01 AM on April 5, 2013

You should have a copy of everything they're going to use to judge the condition of the apartment when you move out, period. Don't sign anything agreeing on unknown information.
posted by rhizome at 9:40 AM on April 5, 2013

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