How to respond to a bullying landlord
September 17, 2007 3:13 AM   Subscribe

Another security deposit question with a twist. Landlord in California is holding deposit until she receives "payment" for unreturned DVDs - which I didn't borrow. Illegal. However, I didn't return the keys before I left on vacation to Thailand!

She wants $50 for 3 Simpson's DVDs which I didn't borrow since I own my own copy (and by the way, you can get the entire set new for $25 on Amazon). She wants $20 for Mission Impossible ($10 on Amazon). She also wants to steam clean the carpet in a room in which I lived for 8 weeks, didn't eat in the room (wasn't allowed to), and didn't wear shoes. She also never gave me a walk-through. We extended the contract 2 weeks (after 2 months was up and I needed another week) but now she claims I didn't tell her when I was vacating so couldn't give me a walk-through! However, when I did move out it was at midnight, she was asleep (she lives in the house) and I locked up and took the keys. Now, I'm in Thailand for 3 weeks!

I know the deposit needs to get back to me 21 days after receipt of keys. Can she re-key the place and charge me for it? The DVD thing is ridiculous and illegal. The steam cleaning might be valid, but is tenuous. Should I sue her? Pay up?
posted by faux ami to Law & Government (7 answers total)
It all comes down to how much money is it, and is that money worth the hassle?

I've tended to let things go in the past when it's been clear that being in the right was just going to be more trouble than it's worth.

Demanding steam cleaning after an 8-week occupancy is a little on the cheeky side. Demanding money for DVDs should be entirely unrelated to legitimate tenancy issues.

Perhaps you could come to a 'close out' agreement - $50 and you both call it quits, she can steam clean, or buy DVDs and you can get on with whatever you would rather be doing.
posted by sycophant at 3:36 AM on September 17, 2007

Send her a letter and the keys, certified, quoting your relevant local landlord-tenant law. Don't leave out the part that most of those laws have about double or triple damages. Don't ever let a landlord win.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:09 AM on September 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Almost any city of any size will have some sort of renters advocacy group (when I was in college in Santa Cruz there was both a city renters agency and the campus housing office). I'd suggest getting in touch with one; they can give you good advice, and can provide assistance in negotiating with the landlord.

Whatever you do, though, don't hang onto the keys or do anything retaliatory. As Optimus Chyme says, you're likely entitled to double or triple damages if you take her to small claims court, but you'll decrease your chances of winning the case if you don't do your side by the book.

On a small aside: I know small claims court sounds like a lot of work, but it's really not. I'm still kicking myself for not taking a landlord to claims court a few years back; a couple of days of court monkeybusiness would have been well worth the time.
posted by jacobian at 7:04 AM on September 17, 2007

Steam cleaning: not your responsibility.

DVDs: Tell her to take a hike

Otherwise, lots of word of mouth going on. As for the keys, she knows you're out. She could re-core/re-key and take it out of your deposit. There's nothing keeping her from following the law and returning your deposit minus any itemized deductions within the legal time limit. If she doesn't, she has to give the whole thing back. If she still doesn't, she risks having to return triple your deposit. If she still doesn't, you can have the Sheriff sell her car to pay you the money she owes you.

Serve and enjoy.
posted by rhizome at 8:18 AM on September 17, 2007

You need to check CA laws but turning in keys does not define the end of tenancy in my state. Tenancy ends when the contract/lease says it ends. Not turning in keys can cost you some of your deposit, but it oughtn't give the landlord the right to decide when she'll return what's left. However, not providing a forwarding address will delay the start of the 21 or 30 day period during which the landlord must return the deposit or itemized list of deductions. Be sure she has somewhere to mail it to, even if it is just a friend or relative's house.

Also, double check the amount of time she is given to return your deposit. Short-term agreements might have shorter windows than, say, year-long leases. Depending on how long you've been out and whether you left a forwarding address, she may have already forfeited any claim to your deposit or owe you damages.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:18 PM on September 17, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. In my state it seems that 21 days starts from time of return of the keys - although I'm not sure what happens when I've left but accidentally kept the keys. Perhaps she can charge for the keys but still has only 21 days to return the deposit (can't find this info. on google). I'm having my parents back home find the keys and send them to her by certified mail, so the rekeying would seem to be out. I've read that tenants often win on the steam-cleaning thing - but in this case I was really there very little. Apparently steam-cleaning isn't part of normal wear-and-tear and she had had it cleaned before I arrived. Nonetheless, the fact that she didn't offer a walk through makes me think that this is void, since I didn't have a chance to do this myself. I also at first mentioned that I may pay her for the missing DVDs - before I realized that I had never borrowed the Simpson's DVDs (but, although stupid, I don't think this legally binding, nor does it have anything to do with my security deposit).

I think I will send a letter with the keys saying I'll agree to $50 or else I'm taking her to court and I will ask for double the security deposit of $500 - yes it's only $500, but she's an outrageous bully. Thanks for the suggestions, folks.
posted by faux ami at 11:49 PM on September 17, 2007

My understanding of CA law (don't have a cite, though) is that you're still technically in possession until you return keys. So return them ASAP and sue in small claims if she doesn't return security deposit in 21 days. She may be entitled to deduct prorated rent for any period not already paid for up until the time the keys were returned. The ridiculuous DVD claim is unrelated to the security deposit issue. Barring any abnormal damage caused by you, you should never have to pay for a landlord steamcleaning the carpet. The fact that you weren't allowed to eat in your room makes your landlord look really bad, and it sounds like a decrease in services... you might be entitled to compensation for past overpayments of rent.
posted by mahamandarava at 7:18 PM on September 18, 2007

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