Dispute with Former Lanlord

Gemini526January 4, 2004

I didn't know if this was appropriate for this forum, but perhaps someone here has had experience and can help. Our former landlord is suing us in small claims court for "damages". (Note: we left the residence in the same condition as it was in when we moved in.) Anyway, on the accounting he sent us, he listed things like glass cleaner, comet powder, light bulbs,... even a stepstool and broom that he supposedly had to buy to "fix" and "Clean" the residence after we left. There are numerous other things that he listed, but my question is, can he claim these items? What can a landlord legally get reimbursed for? He's also claiming $12.00 an hour for "labor" for time that he supposedly spent cleaning. Is this a figure the courts will allow? I had heard somewhere that $10.00/hr was what could be claimed in court for labor preformed by a landlord.

Whew! The place was in good repair when we left, but (lesson learned the hard way) we didn't take any pictures to prove it, so I'm trying to figure out if these costs that the landlord incurred are a little exessive.

Any help or advice would be appreciated!

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Look up your state's "Residential Landlord Tenant Act" ... it's quite specific on what can and can not be charged for, and cleaning and inspections.

What did the lease say you had to do before moving out? Did you have a pre-move in and a post move-out inspection with a detailed list of condition and damages? (if not, it's your word against his, and his trying to charge you for light bulbs anbd cleanser will mek him look greedy in froint of the judge)? Was there a cleaning deposit mentioned in the lease?

You say "same condition" ... but what was the move-in condition and do you have ANY witnesses at all?

Landlords can NOT charge for "normal wear and tear" ... it's the reality of life that carpets get soiled, etc. They can charge for extraordinary damages, or clenaing that was specified in the lease and not done by the tenant.

They certainly can NOT charge for a stepstool they can use elsewhere (that's a tax-deductible 'tool', and cleaning supplies arre also tax-deductible expenses). Light bulbs? Only if you took all the bulbs when you packed.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2004 at 8:20AM
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I am a Landlord and I can tell you straight out ... the Landlord cannot charge for normal cleaning. They can charge to clean or repair things that are above and beyond normal wear and tear. We usually charge $65 per hour which is the going rate for handymen in our area. This varies greatly according to location so check your local handymen services to see what they charge. Even if it was damage, they could not charge more than the going rate in the area. Your next step is to write them a letter disputing the charges. Make sure you keep a copy for your records. Depending on the state in which you are in, one of you has to file a small claims case. In many states, the LL has to file in order to keep the security deposit if there is a dispute. You will have your day in court and you need to bring whatever documentation you have available. The letter he sent alone may send the judge into spasms because I have never seen anyone itemize comet. Let us know how it turns out.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2004 at 6:13PM
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All other issues aside, $12.00 an hour for cleaning after a move is dirt cheap! Where I live the standard rate is $85.00 an hour. Obviously that's not what a person would pay to have a cleaning service come in; it's what landlords charge when they have to have someone come in and clean after a tenant moves out. It's kept at a high rate, I'd guess, to deter tenants from leaving a gross disgusting mess. (I am referring to cleaning an "uncleaned" apartment - it's not that every tenant who moves from anywhere is charged $85.00 an hour for regular cleaning of normal wear-and-tear. There is not supposed to be any charge at all for that, assuming you leave the apartment in reasonable condition.)

As to whether he can charge for light bulbs, Windex, etc., I doubt it but you should check your state's landlord/tenant laws to see what is legal and what isn't. Good luck.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2004 at 1:07PM
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The letter is a very good idea. Be sure to make it polite and fair as you will probably be showing a copy in court. Send it U.S. mail certified, return reciept requested so you can prove it was delivered. If you watch Judge Wapner's 'Animal Court' you get a good idea of how small claims works. If it's your word against theirs, the judge starts looking at paper documentation. Just because the landlord hires a cleaning service doesnt prove you caused excess damage. In our state the landlord can't argue about the condition of carpet if it is say 6 or seven years old unless you did something like rip it up and hang it from the ceiling. If you have any witnesses who can vouch for the condition at move-in and move-out that might help you if the landlord pulls out documentation from the cleaning service

    Bookmark   January 8, 2004 at 11:14AM
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Thank you all so much for your terrific advice! I must clarify, though, the 12.00/hr was just for the labor. (He supposedly cleaned the residence himself, he didn't hire out the work. The statement he sent shows all of the various cleaning supplies listed, plus an additional 12.00/hr simply for the labor) Anyway, though, this whole thing is frustrating to me because the residence was left in great shape! Other than the "normal" wear and tear. There were some oil stains in the driveway from where an old truck of ours leaked. (We didn't realize it was happening, or we would have put down cardboard, etc.) This we have no problem paying for. My fiance also got a little over-zealous with the spray paint in the garage and there is a small (less than 1' X 1') making of green spray paint on the garage wall. (The landlord has claimed $400.00 for an estimate to repaint garage. The garage was sheetrocked, but not taped or textured, so I'm guessing this quote must include taping/texturing. Not sure what a fair settlement would be on this issue. I'd be happy to pay to replace the sheet of sheet rock.) Other than that, though, the rest of the charges seem a little over the top. Just wanted to see what the general concensis (sp?) was.
The interior of the place was move-in ready. The garage and driveway were the main issues. Now he's trying to claim other "damages" too. So frustrating! Thanks for your help! Next time I'll take pictures- duh! (The lack of photgraphic evidence is my fault)
Thanks for your help everyone!!

    Bookmark   January 9, 2004 at 10:32PM
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Oil on a driveway! That's normal wear and tear. If you had gouged out a chunk of the paving, that would be a repair.

Overspray in an UNPAINTED, untaped, unmudded garage? Point out to the judge that he's trying to get the WHOLE garage painted (when it was not painted before) because of a bit of overspray ... hiding an improvement in the guise of repair is not allowed.

And next time get an itemized list of existing damage from the landlord on a move-in walkthrough, and take LOTS of pictures of the way things are when you move in and move out. A walk-through on exit with signoff from the landlord is usually required by law if the tenant requests it.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2004 at 8:27AM
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I suspect that if you dispute this, your landlord will quickly back down. Anyone who tries to deal with their former tenants this way is used to making quick money off of intimidated people.

By the way, check your local laws. We once had someone try to ding us $300 on our security deposit for changing a furnace filter. (!)

However, she had taken forever to file the complaint. In the state we were living in at the time, landlords had thirty days to inspect a rental and return a security deposit/list of damages. Going past the thirty days legally meant a tenant could ask for triple their security deposit back.

We politely informed her of this, and told her we'd waive the triple security deposit and forget the whole thing if we got our original security deposit back without any further fuss. We did.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2004 at 10:13AM
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Re charging for cleaning supplies: although I still don't think he's allowed to do this, you might ask him - since YOU paid for the Windex, etc. - what happened to the leftovers? Since YOU paid, they are YOURS. As in, invoice says Windex, $3.29. Well he probably only used about 1/4 cup to clean an entire apartment so where's the rest of the bottle???

$12.00 is still cheap for labor (don't tell him that!) In my area, as I said, they charge about $85.00 an hour but that doesn't mean the landlord is hiring out for the service. He might do it himself but they still charge a high fee. Cleaning an oven is a separate charge of about $130. It's just a method to keep people from leaving a mess.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2004 at 1:24PM
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