What do I owe my landlord?
May 24, 2006 7:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm having some difficulty with my ex-landlord over $$...

When I moved in to the rental property, there was an old upright piano there (I'm talking really old, out of tune, basically a piece of junk). He asked if I wanted it removed, I said I really didn't care, so he left it. It was not mentioned specifically in the lease agreement, nor was it mentioned in the move-in inspection.

Shortly after I moved in, one of the legs cracked while I was moving it to a different room, so I just had it hauled away. I didn't think it was a big deal so I didn't mention it to him, as I was under the impression that it was left over from his previous tenant (as a number of other pieces of property were).

When I moved out last week, we did a move-out inspection and my landlord did not mention anything about it and returned my security deposit (which I have already deposited). Today he calls me upset about the piano and demanding some sort of restitution on the basis of "principle." He asked for $400, which I said was ridiculous for an old broken-down piano. I offered $100, and he agreed.

Now, though, I'm a little upset, and I don't really think I should pay even that much. If the item meant that much to him, he should have taken it out of the house or put it into the contract. It obviously wasn't important enough for him to notice it when we did the walk-through. I feel like he's trying to juice me for money. What kind of legal obligation am I under? Should I just pay the $100 and be done with it? Should I counteroffer a lower amount (it cost me about $50 to have it hauled away)? What do I really need to be wary of here?
posted by papakwanz to Law & Government (13 answers total)
He's obviously trying to juice you for money, but you DID agree to pay for it. If you want to fight it legally you could since it's not on paper, but offering $50 now doesn't really seem right. If the $100 is worth your time in small claims court, you'll probably win since there's no documentation of it ever even existing. Of course, IANAL.
posted by borkingchikapa at 7:33 PM on May 24, 2006

What do I really need to be wary of here?

The fact that you're conducting negotiations about money verbally?

Get everything in writing.

If I were him, I'd write him a letter summarizing the conversation you had with him including the initial request for $400 and the agreement on $100. The next paragraph would deduct from $100 the exact cost of having the piano hauled away (with a xerox of the receipt, if you have one or can obtain one from the piano hauler). Then, I'd enclose a check for the remainder. I'd xerox the letter and the check and send it in some way that produced a record of the date you sent it.

If he cashes the check, he'll be hard pressed to argue that he didn't agree with the content of the letter at a later time.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:36 PM on May 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

(IAAL, but I am not your lawyer, etc...) When you agreed to pay the $100, you entered into a contract. Legally, you owe him a hundred dollars.

Having said that, you're well within your rights to renegotiate. If you want to talk, talk. You're not breaking the law if you ask him to accept a lower amount. Remember that taking this to court over such a small amount would be a burden for either one of you. (I think the small claims fee in California is $50, half of what's in dispute here.)

If talking doesn't work, personally I'd pay it and be done with the mess.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 7:37 PM on May 24, 2006

Give him nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada. And don't feel guilty.

He had every opportunity to address the issue before you moved in and during his walk-through when you moved out.

IANAL, but he's got no leverage and no recourse. And that's as it should be.
posted by bim at 7:37 PM on May 24, 2006

I'd have said "walk", but since you've agreed to pay $100, you should pay $100, or negotiate a cheaper amount (ie, don't walk).

I tend to use the magic genie scenario in these situations. I think what it'd be like to be in the middle of a tense negotiation or argument with the landlord trying to get him to come down on price. I imagine stressing out about it before hand, and how I'll feel afterward. Then I ask myself: if a magic genie appeared and offered to make it all go away for $100, what would I say? The answer, for me anyway, is "hell, yes".

So, my advice is to pay the $100. Don't see it as "losing" to the landlord; see it as buying peace of mind.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:21 PM on May 24, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, all.

I've decided that while I like bim's answer best, it's probably best to follow the advice of obiwan et al and just pay the $100 and be done with it. I'd rather not have any more dealings with this person ever again, but who knows, I might need the guy for a reference at some point in the future, so it's best to not burn any bridges unnecessarily. I'm writing up a little letter indicating that this $100 completes any transactions between the two of us, blah blah.

I always tell myself to get things in writing and stick to my guns when I think I'm right, but I always seem to forget when shit like this happens...
posted by papakwanz at 8:27 PM on May 24, 2006

Kingjoeschmoe, why do you say this was a contract? What was the consideration?

My take on this is that landlord left a junk piano in the Mefite's apartment, Mefite had it hauled away, landlord finds out and demands money for the junk piano, Mefite agrees, Mefite reconsiders. I don't see "offer - acceptance - consideration" here, but then maybe I'm just missing it. The Mefite's agreement to pay the money strikes me as purely gratuitous.
posted by jayder at 10:10 PM on May 24, 2006

I offered $100, and he agreed.

Sounds like you have an oral agreement, which is just as binding as a written contract. Pay him the $100 and have your future landlords get rid of their decrepit musical instruments before you move in.

posted by oaf at 11:00 PM on May 24, 2006

I'd suggest that you were bullied into "accepting" the wonderful terms the landlord gave you, and any agreement made under duress, particularly a verbal one, is non-binding. Now you've had time to think about it, and realize the real situation: you did him a favor by getting the hulking piece of crap out of the house (which would have cost him money) and now he wants more money because you "trashed" some wonderful heirloom that he was going to pass down to his children's children? Screw that.

By all means, follow the advice above and "renegotiate." I suggest renegotiating something like this: "I've thought about what we talked about earlier, and figure I should be restituted $100 disposal fee for getting rid of the piano for you. If you have a problem with that, I'll see you in court."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:24 AM on May 25, 2006

Today he calls me upset about the piano and demanding some sort of restitution on the basis of "principle."

Replace the junk piano with another junk piano.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:31 AM on May 25, 2006

Nor am I a lawyer, but don't the laws about the validity of oral contracts vary state to state? Or on the presence of witnesses?
posted by solotoro at 7:43 AM on May 25, 2006

Agree with Jayder --

From a legal perspective, it seems that the offer to pay $100 is a gratuitous offer, with the landlord not providing any consideration to form a valid, enforceable contract.

However, from a practical perspective, paying the $100 bucks and being done with it forever probably isn't a bad idea.
posted by buddha9090 at 10:58 AM on May 25, 2006

Regardless of what the law says about oral contracts, in reality it's merely a he said, he said situation. For all practical purposes, the "contract" is unenforceable -- unless someone is a boy scout. You don't have to be a lawyer to see that. It would take more time and trouble to haggle over the $100 than it's worth.

Papakwanz should do whatever he is comfortable with.

Me, I wouldn't have any problem telling piano man to buzz off.
posted by bim at 3:59 PM on May 25, 2006

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