Collection agency coming after us for damages we paid in 2014
November 11, 2017 1:06 PM   Subscribe

We rented a property in Vancouver BC in 2014 and damaged the carpet (hot glass smashing on the stove, an accident). As a result, of course when property inspection was done, the damage was noted and we were informed that our security deposit would be witheld ($900). Everything seemed sorted, the landlady went through our payments in the office with us and was happy. Then we got a letter from a debt collection agency stating that we owe a further $700.

I know that after we moved out, the entire floor of our building had the carpets replaced with hardwood floors so the landlords could raise the rent. So covering the 'replacement carpet' is bullshit. But we gave them our deposit out of principle because we did indeed actually damage the carpet. On the day we moved out everything seemed to be in order.

Now our old landlord is claiming she told us the day we left it would cost more (categorically did not happen).

My question is, is it worth our while to hire a lawyer for this, or just pony up the payment? I really dislike this because they already have so much of our cash and have not actually replaced the carpet. But this is stressing my husband out who is already dealing with a lot at work. The agency has our address which afaik means they can legally come after us. Any help/advice much appreciated.
posted by everydayanewday to Law & Government (7 answers total)
Sorry, I can't answer BC specifics, but the gist of what you want to do is: ask the collection agency for proof of debt (in writing), tell them nothing else, and admit to nothing else. Meanwhile, absolutely get a lawyer. An hour with a lawyer will cost less than the debt, and moreover fuck somebody for trying to screw you out of money you probably don't owe.

Of course it depends on locale, but it seems rather unlikely that you could be on the hook for arbitrary debts tacked on by a landlord after the conclusion of your lease and surrender of your deposit (especially without written notification in a timely fashion at the conclusion of the lease). A lawyer will be able to help you understand the law as it applies.
posted by so fucking future at 1:17 PM on November 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hopefully, you have something in writing showing you concluded all business with the landlord when you left, including the damage deposit. A receipt or something?
posted by Thorzdad at 1:28 PM on November 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

Here's the BC Residential Tenancy section on security deposits. It sounds like there's a 15 day window where there needs to be a written agreement about the tenant owing anything:
After a tenant has moved out and given the landlord a forwarding address in writing, the landlord has 15 days to:

Return the deposit(s) with any interest to the tenant
Ask the tenant to agree in writing to any deductions and return the difference to the tenant
Apply for dispute resolution asking to keep all or some of a deposit

If the landlord doesn’t take action within the 15-day timeline, the tenant can apply for dispute resolution requesting their deposit be returned. The landlord may be ordered to pay the tenant double the amount of the deposit(s).
Personally I think it's on the landlord to prove that they notified you at the time, but I would contact them if I were you (the tenancy board, not the landlord or collection agency) to get a clear answer as this sounds like a unique situation.
posted by mannequito at 1:33 PM on November 11, 2017 [10 favorites]

This is going to be a local-law thing, but where I live, this wouldn't fly unless things got put into writing back then.
posted by salvia at 1:41 PM on November 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Did you move out in 2014? If so, they're well outside the tenant dispute window in BC, I would think. The tenancy branch won't even hear disputes more than two years old. If you're sure this isn't some weird filing mistake where the debt collection agency is trying to collect on some other claim and has the wrong information, it sounds like a shakedown. It makes their withholding your deposit look even shiftier.

I know it seems like work you don't have time for, but please contact the residential tenancy branch and tell them what's going on. They'll be better equipped to assist you than a lawyer. Definitely don't pay these people!
posted by halation at 2:09 PM on November 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

You don't need a lawyer to file an application for dispute resolution with the Residential Tenancy Board. As your former landlord is improperly coming after your money today, it is within the purview of the RTB.

Don't expect the staff to be helpful at the branch, they are badly overworked. However you can file the paperwork online and go do it yourself.

Looking at the Tenant application for dispute resolution, you could file the following reasons for order:
- Part C - order to comply with the Act
- Part D - monetary order - ask for your $900 back (you probably won't get it, but ask anyway)
- Part E - other - forgiveness of debt that was wrongly claimed, getting rid of debt collectors, restore your credit rating

The process looks like this if you see it through:
- File for Dispute Resolution
- (optional, but highly recommended) - write affidavit in support of your application. You can serve this with your paperwork
- Receive letter from RTB letting you know if your application was accepted. At this point, you have 3 days to serve it to landlord. Send your affidavit with it. Provide copy of affidavit to RTB and proof of service to landlord.
- Wait for your hearing. I waited 2 months.
- Your hearing will be a 30 minute conference call. Re-read your affidavit first, you will be required to give it as oral arguments.
- Wait for a decision. They have 30 days to issue one, mine took 12.
- I won a monetary order so I had to write a demand letter and serve it on the landlord.

I filed my application in June and the order was paid in October. I feel good having done it as a service for the tenants of the province of BC, even if the order itself was small and it probably wasn't worth my time.

The most time consuming part of the process was preparing the affidavit, I think that took 10 hours or so in my case. You can't claim for the cost of photocopying and notary services so you are out of pocket for those costs. (if you win you get your $100 application fee back). I had prepared an affidavit for myself in a previous legal affair (don't ask) so I was prepared to do this one. If you want a copy of the submissions to use as template for your application shoot me a memail.
posted by crazycanuck at 4:40 PM on November 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, thank you so much to everyone for your excellent advice! Yes we have receipts and I am going to use crazycanuck's tips to sort this out this week. One more landlord who won't get hundreds of dollars out of a helpless tenant. The Mefi community is a lifesaver.
posted by everydayanewday at 8:11 PM on November 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

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