Can my landlord charge me twice for carpet cleaning?
August 5, 2006 11:48 PM   Subscribe

My new landlord company is trying to get me to pay for carpet cleaning when my lease clearly states that it is included in the "Restoration Fee". Can they do this?

I leased my apartment under University Commons, and over the year they were bought out by Lions' Crossing. My lease says:

"5. Restoration Fee: You agree to pay ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS ($125.00) as a restoration fee upon signing this lease. Upon vacating the premises, we may use the restoration fee to paint, clean, shampoo the carpets, and for maintenance labor and materials. If the cost to restore the leased premises exceeds the $125.00 you agree to pay the additional costs"

I recently received a letter from Lions' Crossing saying that we are responsible for contacting a carpet cleaning company and paying for it ourselves. I asked the lease manager, and she said this was in the rules, under 'care and maintenance of property'. Here's what that says.

"CARE AND MAINTENANCE OF PROPERTY: Tenant agrees to maintain the property as follows:
A: Keep the property clean and free of debris and filth
B: Keep all appliances clean and use them in a manner that is safe and consistant with their purpose, and
C: Keep the common grounds of the property clean and free of litter and debris"

She says that they are interpreting that as saying that I have to get someone to shampoo the carpets, which doesn't make sense.

I eventually talked to another manager, who said that they are going to be painting, which will cost around $500 for the apartment, which equals out to the $125 each. There is no real reason to paint the apartment, since we're in a college town and there are only minimal marks on the walls. I know that they are technically allowed to do this, since it says that we have to pay the extra, but it feels like I am getting screwed over somehow.

So I already paid an extra $125, and it seems like I have to pay more now. Any help? I really can't afford this right now, but I keep getting the same story every time at the office.

Thanks!
posted by amicamentis to Law & Government (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, it sounds a little weird to me. In fact, I don't know if I would've agreed to the 'restoration fee' in the first place. I mean, it says they may, not will, use it for the stated purpose. Fishy.

However, in the end, it seems to me that you have two options in this situation; the careful and the easy. The easy first:

1) It doesn't say that you have to shampoo the carpet. So don't. Ignore the letter, clean the carpet as best you can, and leave. If they bug you about it, tell them you're not required to. If they say you won't get your deposit back, write them a nasty little letter telling them you're taking them to small claims court. That should make them return your deposit; so long as your carpets are clean (I'm assuming they don't really need shampooing) they really most likely won't care enough to hassle you. Management companies have too much shit to deal with to sit around arguing about whether someone should shampoo a clean carpet, so you'll almost certainly be in the clear.

2) The safe way: I don't know how much carpet you have, but it's a snap to shampoo carpet yourself. Go to Wal-Mart or Home Depot and rent a carpet-shampoo machine. The whole thing'll cost less than twenty or thirty bucks or so, and it'll only take a little bit longer than vacuuming. I also don't know if they've specifically told you that you have to hire a professional to do this; if they haven't, don't ask, just do it yourself. Again, management companies just want the result; once the carpet's clean, they probably won't argue any more.

I should say that I've had a few landlords who told me, "you'd better get the carpets shampooed when you leave." I don't say that you should ignore them; only pay attention to the spirit of the law. Landlords say that because they've been burned by dipshits who leave the carpet stained. Leave the carpet clean, and the management company won't care how or why it's clean. Believe me.
posted by koeselitz at 12:12 AM on August 6, 2006


Response: I would love to just ignore it and clean the carpets by vacuuming, but Lions' Crossing sent out a letter saying that they require a receipt from a professional cleaners. God, I hate them.
posted by amicamentis at 12:22 AM on August 6, 2006


Then I think this is pretty straightforward: they're out of line. This isn't in your lease, and you and Lions' Crossing both know it; interpreting "keep the property clean" as "hire a shampoo-carpet service" is egregious. Send a nasty (i.e., very formal, legal-sounding and scary) letter saying so, making clear that you fully intend to leave the apartment clean, as you had promised, but refuse to follow their extremely picky instructions for doing so; let them know that they've really tied your hands and tried to force you into accepting an expense to which you certainly hadn't agreed when leasing the apartment; and, most importantly, mention the phrase "small claims court." You might-- might-- have to go so far, but unless they're complete idiots who like to waste their time, they'll see the light.

You don't say where you are in the country, but it shouldn't matter; you haven't signed on for this, and shouldn't have to pay for it. When I lived in Boston, I moved into an apartment that turned out to have bedbugs. I had a lot of trouble doing it, but I finally managed to get the landlord to pay for what it cost me to move out, clean all my stuff, et cetera, as well as return my deposit. The thing that got me there: threatening small claims court.

What's more, at this point, it sounds like you should get in touch with some consciencious neighbors and complain together. A jointly-signed letter of protest that mentions possible legal action might scare them a bit more.

Finally, I've never done it, and it differs from state to state, but I'm told small claims court works pretty well, anyhow. It takes a little paperwork, and you have to show up, but it's quick, and well worth the few hundred dollars you'll save. And I don't see how they'd have a case at all.
posted by koeselitz at 12:52 AM on August 6, 2006


This is why all tenants should withhold their last month's rent. Possession is 9/10th's of the law.
posted by caddis at 1:04 AM on August 6, 2006


caddis,

What do you mean withhold your last month's rent? Where I live (Chicago area) they generally require 1-1.5 months rent as deposit... This would effectively account for the "last month's rent", yea?

Can you clarify?

-quad
posted by quadrinary at 4:15 AM on August 6, 2006


Caddis is just being a grumpy old man. You can't withhold something you legally owe them.

Ami, what you need to do is get to someone higher up in the hierarchy ... not the building manager, but someone in charge of the management company. You need to ask them exactly where it spells out that it's your responsibility to pay for wear and tear to the facilities. EXACTLY where it says you need to shampoo and where they are going to charge you for painting. In MOST states (and your profile AHEM! isn't filled out, nor did you say what state you lived in!), the landlord is responsible for normal wear and tear, and this is spelled out exceptionally clearly in landlord/tenant law sections of your state statutes. You are free to say "Fuck you!" if they are in violation of those laws no matter what you signed.
posted by SpecialK at 6:08 AM on August 6, 2006


First, find a tenant's-rights organization in your state, or if you can't find one, Legal Aid, or the State Attorney General's Office. You may find help in the phone book - the traditional one from the Baby Bell, which often has a Consumer Resources section. Someone will have a booklet outlining what's legal in your state and town, and may be able to help with legal services.

If you left the apt in really poor condition, never vacuumed carpets, left big nasty spills, etc., then pay up. They should be able to use the Restoration Fee as they see fit, but to use it for painting, and ask you to pay for carpet cleaning, is complete and utter BS. You're a student, get other student tenants on your side, and see if the University will go to bat for you.

Take pictures, lots of them, to document that the apt. shows only ordinary wear & tear. Write a clear and polite letter stating that you have paid for restoration, and do not intend to pay again, and that you expect a full refund of your deposit. If they withhold any part of your deposit, go to small claims court. They may be relying on the fact that you'll be leaving town, and won't show up for a court date.

This is really sleazy. You've already paid for restoration, which is, in itself, unusual.

IAAL (I am a landlord). It's common for tenants to use their deposit as their last month's rent. I don't like that, as I've been stuck with some nasty cleaning jobs, melted vinyl siding, stolen appliances, etc.
posted by theora55 at 6:40 AM on August 6, 2006


The landlords here (a college town as well) will try to pull that with us. A lot of students just pay it (b/c mommy & daddy foot the bill). In my case, I get no money, but when I need him, my dad is there for me.

So I ended up in a situation w/ my last apartment where they sent me to collections, saying that I owe them $300 for "cleaning" the apartment. Two weeks before I moved out of the apartment, a pipe behind the wall burst and flooded my apartment. It ruined a ton of my stuff, but they were claiming it was my fault. So when they gave me crap, I called my dad. It's amazing that when I call (or students in general) they try to intimidate you with laws, etc. My dad called, and the problem was magically resolved in less than 5 minutes. I don't know how he does it, and I suppose I will gain these skills one day when I'm older. But for now -YAY DAD!

It is important to note that landlord/tenant laws vary from state to state, and sometimes by county. Maybe there is a tenant's association you can contact for advice in your area?
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:05 AM on August 6, 2006


It is important to note that landlord/tenant laws vary from state to state, and sometimes by county.

Anytime there's a landlord/tenant question, post your location, as it's definitely relevant.
posted by Savannah at 9:14 AM on August 6, 2006


Here locally it is extremely common for professional carpet cleaning by the tenant to be required upon moveout. And thank God for the receipt as I have known of people who had their carpet cleaned and were still accused of having a dirty carpet.
posted by konolia at 9:44 AM on August 6, 2006


Your college will have an attorney/lawyer who is available for free consultation (i.e. he can write up documents, analyze documents, but you can't take him into court). Have him look over the lease and write a response to the issue.
posted by hatsix at 10:47 AM on August 6, 2006


P.S. according to a portion of the Penn State website:
Off-campus residents who need legal advice are encouraged to use the services of the student attorney in the HUB. An appointment, which is necessary, can be made by calling 863-7094.
posted by hatsix at 11:05 AM on August 6, 2006


Seriously, have one of your parents call. I know it sucks to have to defer to them, but really, that's what they're there for.
posted by radioamy at 11:27 AM on August 6, 2006


Here locally it is extremely common for professional carpet cleaning by the tenant to be required upon moveout.

Here too, but it is explicitly stated in the lease and you know about it from day one, not interpreted into some completely unrelated clause after the fact.
posted by advil at 1:12 PM on August 6, 2006


Call your local housing advocates/tenant's rights organization and they'll tell you exactly what is and is not legal. Where I live, those clauses in the lease (requiring restoration fees or cleaning fees) are explicitly illegal, as all of that is covered by the security deposit (which can only be dinged outside of "normal" wear and tear). They're included in leases left and right, and most people pay them, but they're against the law and you'd never know it if you didn't do the research.
So... chances are, your landlord can't do what they're doing and you can take them to court. Luckily, our local courts tend toward tenants.
posted by klangklangston at 2:52 PM on August 6, 2006


Coming to this late in the game, but in case you check in on this again...

While locales differ, any region's landlord-tenant laws are going to recognize a distinction between damage and normal wear and tear. UC is free to choose to paint their units every year on their own dime, however it is not necessary unless damage is done. This is what your deposit is for.

At the same time, the fact that a unit may need to be repainted every five years is not a license for them to conduct an anti-lottery with their tenants. You are under no circumstances responsible for normal wear and tear. That's part of the cost of doing business, no different from insuring the building, mowing the lawn keeping the roof from leaking, etc.

It's an unfortunate reality that places game the system by putting things like the restoration fee in leases but it's part of the price-competition/death of a 1000 cuts strategy businesses use. However if they're not smart enough to put it into the lease then tough titty for them.

All of this is irrelevant, however. Why are you in a discussion with them about the particulars of how they're going to spend that $125? Painting, crack & hookers - it's not your problem. It's their problem, they just (likely - depends on your region) need to send you a letter within a specific period of time after you move out indicating what amount, if any, they will be deducting from that amount.

At which point you (again, depending on locale) will have some period of time to challenge that.

They have the $125, which makes it harder to get back. Under no circumstances should you pay any more money and then try to get it back. If they want to have a pissing match they can hire their own cleaner and try to get the money back from you.

Make sure when you converse with them (personally I'd send them a no-fucking-way registered letter) you include the phrase "normal wear and tear" so they know you know the score.
posted by phearlez at 1:58 PM on August 8, 2006


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