Washington DC securoty deposit disagreement (more inside)
July 23, 2007 1:59 PM   Subscribe

What are my options for getting my security deposit back from an unfair situation?

I've lived in a apartment in a nice neighborhood of Washington DC for about 5 years. It's a duplex where he owns one side and he converted the basement to an apartment which I rented. The place wasn't the greatest but very affordable and convenient and most importantly he alllowed large dogs as I have one. Mostly the relationship has been good. But recently he lost his job and wants to sell his place. I opted to move out and now he's informed me of a laundry list of damages that he will be deducting from my security deposit which is almost all of it (almost $2000). One example is replacement of the carpet. It was not new and a few summers ago the basement flooded. Instead of replacing the carpet, he cut out the affected area and overlapped the same kind of carpet. I didn't like it but figured i was ok with it as I have a dog and thought I wouldn't be responsible for the carpet upon moving out. The other claims are equally unreasonable in my opinion (dog scratching paint on a door that did not shut properly where the paint came off)as he wants to make major repairs to the unit before putting it up for sale.

All I want is my security deposit back, in full as I left the place as I got in minus regular wear and tear. I'm not looking for legal advice but will go to a lawyer eventually if an amicable agreement is not worked out. However, looking over DC codes I am wondering if:

The apartment was legal - only one entrance (which had a deadbolt type lock and not a lock switch) and a stairway up to the upper portion of the house that he kept locked. Also all the windows were sealed shut but I unsealed two of them for fresh air abut all the windows have a plastic rain cover on them making it difficult at best to use as an exit.

The lease was a standard lease he gave me from Staples. No lead paint disclosure given. Was he required to for a one bedroom apartment even though he is a private landlord and not a complex owner?

No separate utility meters or mailbox, but utilities were included in the rent.

The gas meter was in my bedroom. Didn't think too much of it before I read the DC housing codes that says this is not allowed.

No walk through was done when I moved in and the walk through was done by the landlord without my presence.

Like I said all is I want is to be treated fairly and not be accountable for his financial situation. Any resources or suggections from the hive would be much appreciated!
posted by skimides to Work & Money (10 answers total)
Do you have photos from when you moved in? This sort of thing happens ALL THE TIME.
posted by k8t at 2:31 PM on July 23, 2007

Sounds like he doesn't have $2000 to give you (no job, selling his place). This situtaiton will not change if you take him to court - he'll still be broke. Fix everything you can on the list yourself (you can paint a door...). Then get independent quotes on the things you can't. They should add up much less than $2000. Settle for this amount, offer to let him pay it to you after he sells the place, and move on.
posted by Eringatang at 3:03 PM on July 23, 2007

you will have to take him to court. do it quickly, so you can file a lien on the property. don't stress the violations, like the the lack of walk through and gas meter--just concentrate on the things he can't charge you that are associated with depreciation, like carpet or paint.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:19 PM on July 23, 2007

oh, let him know you'll be putting a lien on the property when you win. that might make him back off.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:20 PM on July 23, 2007

for future reference, take pictures of everything, get them printed and then mail them to yourself and leave it sealed till you move out.
posted by andywolf at 9:35 PM on July 23, 2007

Renting in D.C. faq from WaPo tells you how to get an official "Tenant's Guide to Safe and Decent Housing" from the district.

Then contact TENAC. They have a hotline and will be able to advise you according to D.C. landlord-tenant law.

The important thing is the phrase normal wear and tear. Five years is long enough that a carpet can never look "like new" even if it was new when you moved in. If it flooded -- which cannot possibly be your fault -- it should have been replaced then (for health reasons; mold is a huge liability issue). Things that you can fix yourself (spackle dings, repaint dog scratches) you should do, and then there should be no possible claim.

Whatever you do, take a complete photographic record of the apartment as you move out, so that he can't screw you over afterward by staining the carpet or something devious. You never know. Make it absolutely clear that you expect your deposit back and if he tries to cheat you, you will go to court. Be organized, prepared, patient, and firm and he may well cave.

The issues you're bringing up now with regard to habitability/code compliance are irrelevant. You should have complained at the time, or essentially you signed off on an issue you thought was OK. There may be an issue with the lease. In Wisconsin certain terms in the lease are illegal and can invalidate landlord relief under the lease, but I think Wis. is nearly alone in that provision. TENAC or the city will know if there's anything hinky, though.
posted by dhartung at 10:32 PM on July 23, 2007

Don't know how the laws differ in DC, but I had a similar experience with a rental house in CA (landlord claimed the repairs to get the house back up to snuff "just happened" to equal the same amount as our security deposit). By law here, any security deposit deductions over $125 required itemization (as in actual receipts from vendors who performed the repairs or a reasonably hourly rate if the landlord performs the work him/herself) upon request of the tenant, which helped me win the battle since he or course didn't have this info. Also, normal wear and tear generally cannot be deducted, so he can't reasonably expect you to pay for a whole carpet replacement after having lived in the place for 5 years.

In my case I did a simple google search for, I think, "tenant rights security deposit CA" and came up with a site that had the appropriate portions of the CA Civil Code for me to study so I could write my landlord a certified letter with the appropriate portions of the code quoted in dispute of his claims. Good luck!
posted by The Gooch at 10:38 PM on July 23, 2007

This happened to us from scumbag landlords in Oak Harbor, Washington. (Email me if you're thinking of renting up there, I'll pass their names along so you can avoid the ass reaming). And this was AFTER we agreed to feed the cat they abandoned there...urgh. I still dream of them trapped in a fire...

In any case, the only thing that got us any of our money back was photos my wife took when we moved in. She took plenty but when we moved into THIS rental we took over 1000 photos. Our current landlord is a decent guy, but most are bottom-feeders.

Your landlord, as The Gooch points out, cannot just arbitrarily dream up repair costs and magically have them add up to your deposit. You should be able to argue from there...but the guy has already blown the money, so even if you win, you'll be relying on a lien to get paid.

Try to do this without an attorney through small claims court, more than a couple of attorney hours will see the returned deposit in the attorney's pocket and not yours.
posted by maxwelton at 2:36 AM on July 24, 2007

Thanks to all!!
posted by skimides at 11:47 AM on July 24, 2007

mail them to yourself and leave it sealed till you move out

There is absolutely no reason to do this. It doesn't prove anything.
posted by oaf at 7:49 AM on July 26, 2007

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