Damages Assessed After Move Out
This is a pretty long story, but I'm not sure what my options are, so I thought I'd ask here.
I moved into my apartment last year. The carpet was in pretty good shape, but it wasn't new. I have a cat, and I paid a $300 pet fee when I moved into the place.
Fast forward to summer, and I go out of town for a month to start a new job. I had a pet sitter during that time. I gave my 60 day lease-breaking notice, and while I was out of town, I got a call from the leasing office.
They had gone into my apartment more than 3 weeks before I was scheduled to move out for an unannounced "inspection" where they allegedly found urine, feces, and flea infestations. They said they took a bunch of pictures and I would be responsible for damages. (I have not received, or even seen, these pictures)
I was a little skeptical because I have had my cat for 5 years and he has never, ever went to the bathroom outside the litter box, nor does he ever go outside so fleas were unlikely. When I got home the next day, the place looked fine. I didn't see anything or smell anything or get bitten by anything.
Fast forward another week. I have everything moved out, I have my inspection (the only thing the guy noticed was some fraying of the carpet under the bedroom door where it was lifted for cable installation) and when I turned my keys in, the woman at the leasing office said there was nothing in the computer about owing anything and I would have received a notice 2 weeks ago if I owed any money.
I told them I did not have my final mailing address yet (I was staying with family) so make sure they call me if there are any problems. They said that's fine and they had my number.
I assumed everything was okay because I didn't hear from them for two weeks. Then, I get a notice in the mail on Saturday. It was dated 8/19, and because they had sent it to the address I specifically told them not to, it took 10 days to get to me.
In it, it says I owe $600 for a "pet seal" and to replace the carpet. It also says I have 15 days from the date of the notice to remit payment or it goes to a collection agency.
Needless to say, I'm pretty mad. None of this stuff was noted during any inspection, and I'm not sure if it's even legal to assess damages 2 weeks after I move out without giving me a chance to dispute them. Since I'm out of state, I now have to mail a check and if I don't get it there by Thursday, my credit will be hurt severely.
So is there anything I can do? I really don't want to pay it but $600 isn't worth ruining my credit score. Also, if I were to take them to small claims court, I would probably end up spending more flying down there and staying in hotels then just paying it.
This place is sleazy in that they don't require a security deposit but when you move out, they get you with crap like this. I've worked hard for good credit and I want to keep it so I feel like I have no choice here. Either way, I'm going to make sure everyone I know knows not to rent from that place.