Sleazy landlord or justified expense
February 6, 2008 2:16 PM   Subscribe

Old landlord claims they needed to replace carpet when we left. I say nothing was wrong above reasonable wear and tear. Indiana is the state in question. More details inside.

My wife and I moved to a new apartment at the end of December. In our notice letter, we requested a walkthrough so we could see what, if any charges we could expect. They replied to our request despite several attempts, so I figured it wasn't necessary. At the end of last week, I received a letter in the mail detailing charges for replacing the carpet. After living there for 2.5 years, I didn't think there was anything wrong with the carpet that wouldn't be covered under "reasonable wear and tear".

I just spoke with the lady via phone and she stated that her carpet people smelled cat urine so they used a "special light and the cat had peed everywhere". I understand blacklights can be used for this purpose but I am very suspect that they took these steps. All I requested was some kind of proof that the carpet did need to be replaced, and I was told "we don't have to provide you with anything, other then the bill".

So what now? Can they just stick me without providing some kind of proof?

I read through other similar questions but didn't find the exact answer. I appreciate any help.
posted by Silvertree to Law & Government (12 answers total)
Landlord tenant law in every US state. Including Indiana.
posted by dersins at 2:22 PM on February 6, 2008

So there was NO walk through? You do have a cat right?
posted by Freedomboy at 2:29 PM on February 6, 2008

Was the carpet new when you moved in? Also, be sure to find out if the carpet was in fact replaced and they didn't just pocket the cash.
posted by rhizome at 2:40 PM on February 6, 2008

Response by poster: Yes, I do have a cat. No there was no walk through at all.
posted by Silvertree at 3:04 PM on February 6, 2008

Who are the "carpet people"?. Where they smelling the alleged cat pee before or after the carpet was cleaned? You are in for a fight because it is going to be difficult to prove how the apartment was left if they did not do a walk through and you did not document with photos or video, which still wouldn't help with a smell.

I managed apartments for several years and was responsible for the disposition of security deposit charges/returns/damages. I would ask if all the carpet was replaced and how old it was when you moved in--it might have been due to be replaced after your tenancy cat pee or not. I would ask if they attempted to clean the carpet before deciding to replace it; and if you rented a shampooer on your way out, hopefully you retained proof of that. "Normal wear and tear" is a fine line. Normal wear and tear from foot traffic is expected. An iron falling over and melting a patch in the shape of an iron is not, nor would animal waste be considered normal wear and tear.

The supposed cat pee detecting special light sounds sketchy. It might be detecting all sorts of things that aren't cat pee, too and if they are claiming a smell what difference does the light make if it isn't visible to the naked eye? They have to provide you a bil, but it also has to be reasonable. If you sue them for your deposit back, the judge will consider reasonable bills with proof from the landlord, but not charges that are not reasonable. If you win, in some states you would be eligible for treble (triple) damages if the judgement is in your favor. If you have your own documentation or perhaps neighbors who witnessed the condition of your unit at the time of move out, you have a better case. The landlord is banking on you giving up on it, so make it clear you are going to question every charge and want your full deposit back and they may be more reasonable. Good luck.
posted by 45moore45 at 3:19 PM on February 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are you on good terms with any of your old Neighbors? Can you ask them if there has been work going on and carpet in the dumpster?

Also if you have a friend in the area they could pose as a tenant to check out that apartment and the carpet.
posted by imjosh at 3:20 PM on February 6, 2008
"Security deposit" defined
Sec. 9. (a) As used in this chapter, "security deposit" means a deposit paid by a tenant to the landlord or the landlord's agent to be held for all or a part of the term of the rental agreement to secure performance of any obligation of the tenant under the rental agreement.

Says right there that the purpose of a security deposit is to secure performance of any obligation of the tenant under the rental agreement. Do you have your rental agreement? What does it say about wear and tear? Are cats allowed in your apartment? Did it really pee everywhere you think? Is it spayed or whatever? Is the word damage defined well, if there is something in your agreement that talks about what your obligations are if you damage the apartment?

If you paid a security deposit, I believe that he/she has to use that if they wish. Eff the bills.
posted by albatross5000 at 3:44 PM on February 6, 2008

I'm a 3rd year law student in indiana (not a lawyer) with some pretty in-depth experience related to your situation.

The link albatross gave you is a good one, but read the whole thing (not just what was quoted). You'll find some good things in there, like this one:

"A security deposit may be used only for the following purposes: (1) To reimburse the landlord for actual damages to the rental unit or any ancillary facility that are not the result of ordinary wear and tear..."

So... no matter what your rental agreement said (they almost all say that you are responsible for wear and tear), the security deposit cannot be used for that.

You'll want ask a few things. First, when was the carpet installed? Second, was it actually replaced? Third, who did the replacement? Then talk to the people who did the replacement, and ask what they did. (If they confirm the landlord's story, you might just be screwed)

Under no circumstances should you pay for the portion of the carpet replacement that can be attributed to the normal wear and tear. So if the carpet normally has a 7 year life span, and it was installed 2 years before you moved in, 4.5 years of that carpet's value shouldn't even be considered to be charged to you.

All that said, you can probably handle this in small claims, but it might be handy to hire a lawyer.

If you have Indiana-specific questions, I might be able to point you in the right direction (but I cannot give you legal advice). My email's in my profile.
posted by toomuchpete at 5:01 PM on February 6, 2008

I've been in the same situation and demanded that I receive the old carpet when they're done replacing the carpet. I probably didn't have any legal right to the old carpet, but just the threat made them fold.
I did this because at my residence before that, the landlords charged us the security deposit and then some for a new carpet which I know they still haven't replaced four years later.
posted by jmd82 at 5:17 PM on February 6, 2008

What I learned to do in the last three rentals I lived was to get them professionally cleaned and provide the management with a copy of the receipts---of course this was before digital photos became mainstream. Now, I would nth jmd82.
posted by brujita at 10:02 PM on February 6, 2008

You may have to go to court to get your deposit back, but having a lawyer write a letter to your landlord may fix the situation. Did you keep copies of the notice letter where you requested a walkthrough?
posted by electroboy at 10:48 PM on February 6, 2008

Response by poster: In case anyone is still curious, I sent them a certified letter asking a bunch of questions that could basically be translated into: it didn't need to be replaced, I am not fucking stupid, and I am willing to litigate. I received a response yesterday that said "oh, just kidding, we didn't replace the carpet. Never mind, have a nice day." Thanks for all of the advice.
posted by Silvertree at 1:44 PM on February 23, 2008

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