Is my landlord trying to screw me over?
January 22, 2008 11:04 AM   Subscribe

[collegerenterfilter] My roommates and I were told that we were not eligible to renew our lease for next year. Can they take my security deposit? How will this effect my ability to get an apartment in the "real world?"

I live in a college town, were rent is ridiculously high and management companies like to take advantage of their renters. We are graduating seniors who have done nothing wrong (rent paid on time, no pets, etc.). A few days ago we received a letter telling us that we could not renew our lease for "one of the following reasons":

-Continuous outstanding balance
-Cleanliness or housekeeping issues
-Pet violations
-Illegal residents occupying the unit
-Disturbance to other residents or neighbors
-Maintenance/ repairs needed in apartment

I believe these reasons to be completely without any sort of corroborating evidence, and I wonder if this is just a ploy to keep our entire security deposit. The management company has done some questionable things in the past (such as taking all but $200 of the $2400 security deposit when a neighbor moved out and refusing to provide an itemized description of damages until a lawyer was called). They have also been relatively unresponsive with major problems: they cut a 2x3 foot hole in our bathroom ceiling when the upstairs unit was leaking, and did not come back to cover the hole for over a month.

My share of that $2400 would be nice to get back, and I don't want them to screw me over. I am also worried that another company will hear that I was asked not to continue my lease and will refuse to rent to me. My questions, really, are can I now kiss my secuirty deposit goodbye? Will I be able to rent again without too much trouble? And what can I do to make the management company take back their decision?
posted by therumsgone to Law & Government (8 answers total)
therumsgone- I'm going to go out on a limb and guess Isla Vista with all the resulting slum lords? Or perhaps it's another equivalent locale.

It's possible that it's the last reason on the list, which they certainly can't hold against you. That would make sense if your apartment needs work. I would call and inquire and also request a copy of the specific reason IN WRITING. If it's any of the other reasons, you should probably demand documentation.
posted by JMOZ at 11:22 AM on January 22, 2008

I had a landlord decline to renew my lease (we'd had several late payments) and I still got back my security deposit. By refusing to renew the lease, they are declining to enter into a new contract with you. The security deposit is part of the expiring contract and should not be effected. So if they are trying to screw you out of it, they have to come up with something better than 'we don't want to renew the lease'.
posted by happyturtle at 11:43 AM on January 22, 2008

what you can do and the likelihood of you getting screwed depends highly on what state you live in, so you are going to have to at least tell us that. Also JMOZ is right, get everything in writing, respond to the letter by asking for a more explicit reason for why you are not being renewed, as all the first ones state you did something wrong, and the last could just be that they want to renovate the place and get more money for it. As for it affecting you in the future, it won't really, it's not like you'll get a black mark in some mysterious book that all landlords use, you just might not be able to use them as a recommendation to your renting goodness. Heck, you don't even have to admit to renting anywhere when you rent a new place. Granted, in highly competitive places, it may hurt you to not have a good past history, but only as you won't be as sure a bet as someone that they can check the history on. I have rented 5 places, and I think only one ever checked my references, and 1 of which I don't tend to admit much too because it was a slum lord who got mad when I wouldn't let her screw me out of money. Never once hurt me.

So your best bet is to just move out, find somewhere with a better landlord and no major holes in the ceiling, ask in writing (and keep a copy to prove it, as well as send it certified mail) for an itemized list of everything that they need to fix that would come from your security deposit. If a lawyer gets necessary, talk to your college, big colleges in towns like this always have someone you can call to send the threatening letters and such to make sure their students aren't being taken advantage of, it's just that most people don't know that they exist, or don't realize they are being taken advantage of.
posted by JonahBlack at 11:47 AM on January 22, 2008

Future landlords may wish to call the previous one for a reference, so yes, this could cause some frustration in your next apartment.

IANAL, but I've fought with several former landlords who were trying to take advantage of me, and I won. (That I had to type several makes me sad. And happy that I bought a house.) Landlord-tenant law varies from state to state, but it's not a legal stretch to say that what you describe sounds illegal.

Create a log of events, now. Be as detailed as you can. For dates and events that you can't quite remember, make an educated guess and call it approximate. You'll need this reference for the registered letters you'll likely be sending to your landlord, and of course you'll need it for small claims court if it goes that far.

EVERY correspondence needs to be in writing from now on. If you have a phone conversation, follow up with a letter reiterating the result of the conversation.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. First, find out whether they simply sent this letter to your apartment by mistake.
posted by desuetude at 12:01 PM on January 22, 2008

"and refusing to provide an itemized description of damages until a lawyer was called"

From my experience with college slum housing, this is the real reason that you're being declined a lease extension—you're a troublemaker, in their eyes. Generally, that just means they want to be done with you, and won't give you a bad reference.

This has been my experience after getting a lawyer involved at a couple of college slums in order to get back security deposits.
posted by klangklangston at 12:05 PM on January 22, 2008

Anyway, the security deposit should not be affected by the landlord declining to extend a new lease. You need to get with the landlord and find out whether you are in danger of losing portions of the deposit for any of the first five reasons. If it's any of those, ask for documentation now so you can hopefully fight it. Also, read your lease to see if there is any requirement on the part of the landord to notify you of ongoing non-compliance with those issues. If he's required, for instance, to pass on neighbors' complaints, and hasn't done so, he can't hold that against you.

Be dilligent. Good luck.
posted by Doohickie at 12:10 PM on January 22, 2008

I'm not a lawyer, so you better verify my advice again.

I can think of two options to follow.

1) Let them keep the deposit as the last months rent.
2) File a case with Small Claim court for your deposit + the time you spent on resolving the issue. If they wish to proceed to the court without settling it before hand you could bill for the time you spent on court too.
posted by WizKid at 2:07 PM on January 22, 2008

Typically a rental app has a space marked something like "reason for leaving". You just put "end of lease". It is the absolute boring truth, so write it with a clear conscience. There's no black mark against you as far as future tenancies are concerned. If you're really worried, I would just send back a short certified letter saying for the record that you disagree that any of those conditions exist. Any property management company knows better than to give an actual "reference" -- it's a lawsuit waiting to happen. At most (if at all), they'll confirm that the dates of occupany are as you stated, and that the lease did end.

Do request clarification on their plans for the security deposit. Only some of those line items could be legally charged against a security deposit in Calfornia.

taking all but $200 of the $2400 security deposit when a neighbor moved out and refusing to provide an itemized description of damages until a lawyer was called...cut a 2x3 foot hole in our bathroom ceiling when the upstairs unit was leaking, and did not come back to cover the hole for over a month...what can I do to make the management company take back their decision?

Eugh. Don't bother. A company like this is not good to live with. And things get ugly fast once they want you gone if you don't then go. Time to let go of the thought of staying, and look forward to a better experience with the next place.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 6:03 PM on January 22, 2008

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