Atlanta Security Deposit Dispute - Seeking Friendly Advice

6 Replies

Hello everyone, 

My roommates and I have run into a slight conundrum regarding our security deposit at a rental we just moved out of in Atlanta, Georgia. I was trying to think of who I could ask for advice and, since I do not personally know any real estate attorneys, BiggerPockets came to mind as the next logical spot to pose the question. 

A little background information is that I moved into a house last summer and for a security deposit, paid one month's rent ($4,000).  Per the lease it was the tenants' responsibility to cover lawn maintenance and water was to be paid by the landlord and reimbursed by tenants.

Although it was the tenants' responsibility to maintain the lawn, we worked out a handshake agreement that the landlord would continue paying his lawn guy and we would reimburse him for it. Roughly 4-6 months in (Let's say December), we settled up on water and lawn charges and wrote the landlord a check for ~$1,500 (~$1,200 water/ ~$300 lawn). At this time, we decided that going forward it would make sense for us to pay the lawn guy directly so the landlord didn't have to worry about coordinating. We have a text message screenshot showing this determination. 

Fast forwarding to moveout, we cleaned the home to a very respectable living condition and notified the landlord we would be out mid-afternoon. He stated that he was too busy to come by so just asked we leave the keys and he would come by at a later time/date. We did as he requested and, since I know people will ask, we made the mistake of not taking any pictures upon moveout.

The next week we received a certified letter stating his deductions from our security deposit. A rough summary of the letter is below.

Annual water expense:                                  $2500

Annual lawn expense:                                    $800

Total reimbursable expenses:                        $3300

Less December check for reimbursables: - $1500

Total reimbursables due:                                        $1800

Cost to remove sat. dish and repair roof/shingles: $275

Professional cleaning / trash removal:         $600

Total amount owed by tenants:                      $2675

Balance of $4000 dep. to be returned to tenants: $1325

Upon receipt of the letter, I reached out to the landlord asking to discuss the charges and state that we disagreed with some. He simply stated that these were pass through expenses or damages incurred by us. I responded that I understand but I would like to see invoices for all of the costs he is claiming (as they felt expensive and I drove by the house to saw that the dish we were being charged to remove was still installed on the roof) and am disputing the additional $500 of lawn expenses that seemed to appear out of nowhere ($800 claimed less the $300 which were legitimate and paid in December when we began paying the lawn guy directly).

At this point, the landlord went silent. 

I responded to his letter with a certified letter of my own describing our disputes and again requesting invoices for all deductions. I emailed him a copy of the letter and stated that I had sent via certified mail to the address we had just moved out of (since he owns the property and did not respond when I requested his home/business address). 

I sent a follow up text 20 days after move out asking if he had assembled the invoices. No response.

Fast forward again to today. We are over a month past our moveout date (I looked into GA law and it states the landlord has one month to return the check) and we have not received any sort of response or a check.

At the end of the day, he still owes us over $1,300 regardless of how he handles our dispute to the charges. I know that an option is to sign up for the case to be heard in Fulton County magistrate court but am nervous that he knows something we don't given his sheer silence and multiple years of experience as a landlord (I think he has had 10-15 properties for 10+ years so this isn't his first rodeo). 

Any advice on how to proceed would be greatly appreciated. Thank you all! 

Sounds like you have a pretty good case.  Most landlord/tenant court cases can be handled without a lawyer if you're well prepared (which it sounds like you are) and have your documentation organized.

Since it's a decent amount of money, you may want to consult with an attorney, for a few hundred dollars I'm sure they can give you good advice.

It sounds like you have a good case.  He should have written you a $1300 check regardless of the other disputed charges.  I would also take a date-stamped picture showing the satellite dish still on the roof.  I think you'll be fine!

@Toby Coons You've been offered $1,325.  If you agree to drop your dispute and accept that amount, the landlord will presumably give it to you.  You can choose whether to escalate the dispute or not.  It only costs $110 to file suit in Fulton County Magistrate Court, but if you file a suit, best case scenario is you will be waiting several months before you see a dime.  Worst case is you get nothing.

I'm not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but here are some reactions to what you stated in your post:

If you can prove you actually paid the yard guy, and the landlord can't prove he did, you have a good argument on that line item.  If you paid cash and have no receipts, you're in a weak position, regardless of the text message.

It sounds like you can't prove you returned the place clean.  If the landlord has pictures, this will come down to the standard of cleanliness you agreed to in the lease.  The landlord listed "trash removal" as an expense, so presumably will argue there was trash left on the premises after you left.  If there was, you're in a weak position.

You're probably toast on the satellite dish unless your lease has an unusual provision allowing you to drill gadgets into the roof.  The fact that the dish is still on the roof works against you since it proves you made alterations to the premises and you didn't return the property in the same condition you received it.  

I'm guessing you feel you've been treated unfairly, and maybe you have.  The court system exists for citizens like us to sue for justice and you are entitled to use it if you feel you've been wronged.  However, from a purely cost-benefit perspective, it's hard to imagine a lawsuit making sense in this case.

Originally posted by @Dan Mahoney :

@Toby Coons You've been offered $1,325.  If you agree to drop your dispute and accept that amount, the landlord will presumably give it to you.  You can choose whether to escalate the dispute or not.  It only costs $110 to file suit in Fulton County Magistrate Court, but if you file a suit, best case scenario is you will be waiting several months before you see a dime.  Worst case is you get nothing.

I'm not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but here are some reactions to what you stated in your post:

If you can prove you actually paid the yard guy, and the landlord can't prove he did, you have a good argument on that line item.  If you paid cash and have no receipts, you're in a weak position, regardless of the text message.

It sounds like you can't prove you returned the place clean.  If the landlord has pictures, this will come down to the standard of cleanliness you agreed to in the lease.  The landlord listed "trash removal" as an expense, so presumably will argue there was trash left on the premises after you left.  If there was, you're in a weak position.

You're probably toast on the satellite dish unless your lease has an unusual provision allowing you to drill gadgets into the roof.  The fact that the dish is still on the roof works against you since it proves you made alterations to the premises and you didn't return the property in the same condition you received it.  

I'm guessing you feel you've been treated unfairly, and maybe you have.  The court system exists for citizens like us to sue for justice and you are entitled to use it if you feel you've been wronged.  However, from a purely cost-benefit perspective, it's hard to imagine a lawsuit making sense in this case.

Thank you both for your responses. I posed the discussion hoping for responses like this to lay out the reality of the situation going forward, whether we were wronged or not.

Dan, I agree on the fact that there’s not much of a case with the cleaning and dish. Our thought was since we are going through this exercise we might as well ask for the invoices to verify what was charged since our landlord was known to be extremely frugal and try to nickel and dime everything. 

As far as lawn, I’d like to pry a little further into your statement. I don’t think either parties have much of a paper trail for payments to the yard guy. Our thought though is that, since lawn maintenance is a tenant responsibility per the lease, he doesn’t have much grounds to charge for anything related to lawn (unless he tried to claim some sort of damage to the yard I guess). He did not at any point notify us that we were not fulfilling our obligation of maintaining the lawn properly so even if he did send over a crew multiple times to maintain it (which living there we saw no evidence of this), can he truly just pass that expense through to the tenants? 

Thank you again for your advice. I agree that at a certain point the hassle and cost of court isn’t worth our time which is why I am trying to get a pulse from the community on what we could actually expect as possible outcomes. 

Originally posted by @Dan Mahoney :

@Toby Coons You've been offered $1,325.  If you agree to drop your dispute and accept that amount, the landlord will presumably give it to you.  You can choose whether to escalate the dispute or not.  It only costs $110 to file suit in Fulton County Magistrate Court, but if you file a suit, best case scenario is you will be waiting several months before you see a dime.  Worst case is you get nothing.

I'm not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but here are some reactions to what you stated in your post:

If you can prove you actually paid the yard guy, and the landlord can't prove he did, you have a good argument on that line item.  If you paid cash and have no receipts, you're in a weak position, regardless of the text message.

It sounds like you can't prove you returned the place clean.  If the landlord has pictures, this will come down to the standard of cleanliness you agreed to in the lease.  The landlord listed "trash removal" as an expense, so presumably will argue there was trash left on the premises after you left.  If there was, you're in a weak position.

You're probably toast on the satellite dish unless your lease has an unusual provision allowing you to drill gadgets into the roof.  The fact that the dish is still on the roof works against you since it proves you made alterations to the premises and you didn't return the property in the same condition you received it.  

I'm guessing you feel you've been treated unfairly, and maybe you have.  The court system exists for citizens like us to sue for justice and you are entitled to use it if you feel you've been wronged.  However, from a purely cost-benefit perspective, it's hard to imagine a lawsuit making sense in this case.

 Well considering he hasn't received his deposit and it has been over 30 days, he may be entitled to double or triple (state law depending) his deposit amount back, in full. From a cost-benefit analysis it may very well be worth it. 

@Toby Coons  I'd file the suit to pressure the landlord to reach an agreement with you.  A smart landlord would not want to defend the expenses in front of a judge. 

In court, the burden will be on the landlord to prove all the pass through expenses.  Some of the charges like lawn care which conflict with the lease will be difficult to prove.  

I think it's worth $110 to motivate the landlord to figure this out with you.  There's very little downside for you.

@Max T. and @Rick Baggenstoss make valid points, but there is a very real possibility that @Toby Coons will end up getting $0 if he chooses to sue rather than settling for $1,325. When you settle, you get a check on the day you sign the settlement. If you sue and win at trial, you get a piece of paper from the judge saying the defendant owes you money. It's still on you to collect it. You can pay an attorney or collection agency to help collect, but that costs money and you still might get nothing (especially if the defendant is an LLC instead of a human).