Florida Security Deposit Dispute - help appreciated

14 Replies

Hello BP community. I thought that I would get great advice and insight from fellow BP members regarding a security deposit claim that I want to dispute.

Background: My husband and I rented a 2/2 apartment for 18 months. We took good care of the property. During our stay, there was only one real maintenance issue. The roof was leaking, and we reported this promptly. They put a metal roof over the existing roof and repaired the paint and drywall. During the next rain, the roof leaked again (water was dripping through seam of the ceiling and pooling underneath the paint, causing it to bubble). We informed the PM, they sent a maintenance person to have a look. The person did some "repairs", and during the next rain, instead of the ceiling having the dripping issues, the water seems to have started running down the side of the wall (evidenced by the paint bubbling)l.

We left the apartment very clean, and move in ready, apart from some smudges on the tile (It was raining heavily the days we moved). Cleaned every corner, etc. With pictures to prove it.

These are what the the Property Management company is charging:

Carpet and tile cleaning $155 (specified in the lease - not disputing)

Cleaning $96 

Touch up painted interior walls and Trim $135

Replaced burned out regular and vanity type bulbs $19

Cleared clog from front bath sink $25

Replaced bad stove top burner pans $27

Replaced bad outlet plate $4

I believe that they should not be able to charge a separate cleaning fee (#1 because we cleaned it and it was rent ready, #2 they already charged a $155 carpet and tile cleaning fee). I feel that the paint fee is coming from the leak that they failed to fix, so that should note be charged as well. I believe light bulbs are the landlord's responsibility. There was no clog in the front bath sink. The bad stove top burners and outlet plate were already bad when we moved in (documented). 

We are going to bring all our supporting documentation (move in sheet, move out sheet, move in and move out pictures) to the property management company, to dispute these charges. 

Any insights and words of wisdom would be appreciated!

I don't think they can legally charge for the paint. Cleaning fees might be determined by anything in the lease regardless if you personally cleaned it or not. I put in my leases that tenants must replace light bulbs. Your lease may not have that clause. Bad outlet plate? $4???? Kidding me...yes? Seems a bit ridiculous. Sounds like they are trying to figure out as many reasons as possible to keep your deposit. Under FL law, you MUST contest whatever charges you disagree with within 15 days or they can legally deduct it from your deposit. However, if you failed to timely contest it, you still have the right under FL law to sue them for any amounts you can prove were not legally deducted. By law, they had 30 days to notify you of intent to make a claim. By law, you have 15 days to dispute it from the time you received the notice. 

@John Thedford Thank you for your feedback. Upon thorough inspection of the lease, there is no statement regarding cleaning fee apart from the $155 carpet and tile cleaning fee. We only received the deposit claim today, so we should be within the 15 day period.

The following two paragraphs are the only ones that tackle repairs:

"Tenant agrees to take good care of the house and its equipment, or if damaged, other than ordinary wear and tear, Tenant will make repairs and replacement equal in quality to the original construction and if the Landlord makes these repairs, the Tenant agrees to pay cost of same upon presentation of bills."

"The tenant shall promptly repair at his own expense any damage to the property which may occur by reason of his own negligence or the negligence of a member of his family, invitees and guests. Tenant is responsible for any required maintenance and minor repairs. A repair will be considered minor of the cost equals or is less than $95"

Hi @Arianne L. . I'm going to give you the view of the PM, because we see this stuff all the time. 

Cleaning $96 - There is almost always some cleaning that needs to be done, no matter how clean you think you left it. In all my years as a PM, I have only once ever had someone leave a place completely clean and move-in ready. So, the cleaning fees are probably legit. $96 is actually not a large amount. The carpet and tile cleaning fees are completely separate from cleaning the apartment.

Touch up painted interior walls and Trim $135 - Did they tell you it was from the leaks? Could this be from scuffs and nail holes? - Depending on the answer, you can probably dispute this.

Replaced burned out regular and vanity type bulbs $19 - I always charge tenants for bulbs. If they were working when you moved in, then they should be working when you move out.

Cleared clog from front bath sink $25 - Hard to say. If there really was a clog, then they either used a $5 bottle of Drano, or they called a plumber, who would have cost at least $90 for a service call. They obviously didn't call a plumber, so no one can really prove there was or wasn't a clog. - I would dispute this one if I were you.

Replaced bad stove top burner pans $27 - Since it was documented that these were bad when you moved in, then definitely dispute it.

Replaced bad outlet plate $4 - This is a stupid charge. You can buy one at Home Depot for less than $1. The landlord could have just let this one go.

I hope this was helpful!   :)

Hi @Arianne L. , I'm sorry you're going through this. As a landlord in FL, here's my take (and we just had a tenant move out).

Cleaning $96

*We don't deduct/charge for this if the tenant left the place clean and empty. We still pay a cleaning service to come in, as they will do things most tenants will not, such as clean inside all the appliances and cabinets. Only once did a tenant leave the place cleaned to that extent. She said she cleaned as if her mother were coming over :) If we have to dispose of any personal belongings/garbage left behind, or if the place is dirty, we charge.

Touch up painted interior walls and Trim $135

*We do charge for this if there are holes in the walls from hanging photos/flat screen TVs that need to be patched/painted. Scuff marks from moving furniture in or out is what I consider normal wear and tear unless it's extreme. In your case, it doesn't sound legitimate.

Replaced burned out regular and vanity type bulbs $19

* As @Account Closed said, if the bulbs were working when you moved in, they should be working when you leave. Same for smoke detector batteries. Our lease explains this clearly.

Cleared clog from front bath sink $25

* Our departing tenant had a clog in the bathroom sink that he never mentioned. We did not charge him for it, because our contractor cleared it with one of those long plastic snake things and removed a clump of hair. Had it been a serious clog, we would have charged him, since he obviously knew it was there before he moved out and we could have addressed it before it became a problem.

Replaced bad stove top burner pans $27

* If they were in poor condition when you moved in, that should have been part of the initial walk-through report. Since you have photos, you should not be responsible for them.

Replaced bad outlet plate $4

* Not exactly sure what this means - was it cracked or broken when moving furniture? If so, yes, it's a legitimate charge, although if you left the unit in really good condition and clean, I would not have charged for it. I would have considered it normal wear and tear.

Good luck!

My main reasoning for disputing most of the fees (cleaning, paint) is that we left with the apartment cleaner than when we first moved in. When we moved in, there were dirt, debris, leaves all over the floor. The tile was definitely not clean at all. We have clear documentation of this (pictures, move in and move out sheets). We are merely returning the rental in the same, if not better, condition. We are two young professionals in our 20s, do not smoke, drink, have no children, pets, etc. and rarely have someone come over. We work full time and are out after regular working hours to grow our RE business. Wear in tear was definitely way below average.

There were no scuffs or holes anywhere. Before getting into RE, I was under the impression that a unit was the landlord's and completely thought that I could not even hand pictures on the walls. I now know better. However, for this rental, there were no holes in the walls, and since we did not smoke or do anything to damage the paint, I can't think of a logical reason for them to charge for that.

The light bulb could be a legitimate charge. When I took our pre move in pictures, I took it in sunlight so I cannot remember if the bulbs were all working. I believe it was one bulb out of the 3 on the bathroom vanity. However, it is probably arguable that $19 is quite steep for a true replacement (they did not have LED bulbs)

The clog, it is hard to say since I don't have a picture of it. We also never used that bathroom (it was not the master) so I truly had no idea if there was a clog or not. There did not seem to be on my routine cleaning. Also, since we rarely used that bathroom, if there was a clog, it was probably there from the beginning. 

@John Thedford  Thank you for that reminder. Will make sure to mail certified mail with return receipt requested.

Account Closed Thank you for the insight from a landlord's perspective. I actually did clean as if my mother was coming (ha! My mother's definition is actually scrubbing all appliances and the toilets. She would actually rub it with her finger to test. She's the reason I don't hang anything on the walls as well). I'm happy to pay anything that wasn't documented enough that I could win in court (such as the light bulbs and the drain clog). However, I refuse to be taken advantage of. 

All the charges are pretty much bs, but you have to understand that property managers will bend you over just like anyone else. Their 10% management fee really doesn't go very far, so they get you on everything else to retain as much of the deposit as they can. For instance, the carpets were not cleaned, I'll tell you that straight - they were vacuumed at best. A property manager tried that on a friends property recently. Actually the property manager was a complete -------- as he charged the owner of the property all these fees which the owner paid (there was no deposit to be had by that point) and then cancelled the management agreement as soon as the check cleared.

@James DeRoest I'm sorry that your friend had to go through that. Hopefully they managed to find a good company.

There are definitely a LOT of bad property management companies. I've toured several homes that are both for rent and for sale that were definitely not very appealing to renters or buyers. There are a handful of good ones that I always love telling people about.

Here are some pictures of our unit's floors before move in. They probably charged the previous tenant $155 for this "cleaning"! (and maybe an extra $95 too)

@Arianne L. you can read chapter 83 Florida statutes. This is the Florida Landlord-Tenant act. It is specific as to requirements and procedures for both parties. It sounds like they might not be justified in some of their claims, but an attorney would be the one to give you specific legal advice. 

In Georgia, we send off "estimated" charges from the move out.   Tenant has 5 days to respond.  

We take a look at the response, check our documentation from the move in, and adjust where necessary.

Sounds like when you respond with your findings, adjustments will be made accordingly. 

Just part of the process.  

My husband and I don't use a property management company; we have a contractor in FL (we're in NJ) that handles all repairs and showings/walkthroughs, and I handle all tenant relationships, accounting, vendor billing, advertising, legal, etc. I've heard horror stories about management companies, especially for out of state owners. 

I'm sure there are good ones too, but you never hear stories about those, just as there are really no stories about great tenants :) 

We allow tenants to hang things on the walls, but the walls need to be returned to their original condition when they move out, and our lease explains that. They might want to hang 50 pictures on the walls and that's ok; we've had tenants put stickers on walls/ceilings/doors of the kids' bedrooms that can't be easily removed, so they leave them. Painting and wallpapering are lease violations. I verbally go through every line of the lease before the tenant signs it, to explain what is expected. The tenant and I initial the bottom of every page.

@Arianne L. , you did the right thing taking move-in photos. My contractor does the same when a tenant moves in, and the lease has a section where existing conditions are noted at the walk-through. It sounds like you have a good case for dismissing most of those charges. Those floors were filthy! 

@Arianne L. I am sorry you are experiencing these issues with the property management company. I would definitely dispute the charges and I would suggest going forward always take pictures of the property/apartment before you move in and then after to show the difference and anything you notice about the property that was documented in the lease. 

My first question would be did you do a pre-move out inpsection?  In CA the landlord is required to offer a pre-move out inspection within 2 weeks of move out date.  At that time we notate all repairs needed with an estimate of cost of repairs.  That provides a tenant the opportunity to find a licensed contractor who may be able to do the repairs cheaper.  How this would apply to you is you would know what the landlord intended to charge you for.

I guess this is not nation-wide, but the standard in CA is paint should last 3 years.  If a tenant lives in apt. more than 3 years no charge for painting.  Between 2-3 years then 33% cost of paint.  1-2 years then 66% cost of paint.  Less than 1 year 100%.  The question is if touch up walls included the water damage areas. 

As a property manager who conducts and sets rates tenants will pay on moveout after inspections, I have to say the cleaning seems fair.  Most tenants want to clean and get all their deposit back.  But the questione comes down to: Is it really rent ready?  Most tenants do a good job with obvious areas, but did they take the blinds down and clean the top and each slat?  Same with ceiling fan blades and all the hard to get areas.  Did they remove stove top and clean around burners, get all grease off range hood.  Might be tough for you to dispute cleaning.

Bulbs...that's a tough one.  I never charged for bulbs because it seems like going too far.  But the standard is an outgoing tenant is suppose to leave unit in same condition as when they moved in with the exception of normal wear and tear.  So if they can prove bulbs were new when you moved in, then they can charge for burned out bulbs at move out.

Clog for sink $25...that's cheap.  We can't find a plumber that won't charge at least $40 just to drive out to the property and they they charge for the repair on top of that.  Here's the test for a clog...fill the sink up with water and pull the drain.  If you get the whirlpool as water drains out, then water is being sucked through the drain and no clog.  If a plumber snaked the drain, then they likely will say on the bill...found hair or whatever they pulled out.  So the pm should be able to prove why they are charging for that.

While they don't seem to be cutting you any slack on move out expenses, it doesn't seem they are going overboard either.  You're doing the right thing to dispute with the pm company before going to court.  It's my experience if a tenant howls loud and long enough and they were reasonable good tenants, we would let items go that might be difficult to prove like switch plate, light bulbs, burner pans (surprised they're charging for that as they almost always have burn marks).

One thing that stands out is they did not make the proper effort to repair the roof.  Obviously, they can't work in the rain.  Once the rain stops, they can do proper repairs.  Since you had repeated issues, I would raise hell about how that interfered with and interrupted your ability to live a normal life.   Since water ran down side of wall what they likely did is plugged a hole enough that it re-routed the water.   So, your argument is there should be some trade off...your having to deal with leaks for striking several of the lesser items they are charging you for.  Most owners/pms will be reasonable and make the trade to avoid the time/expense of going to court.  

Good luck and let us know how you meeting goes.

Thank you for your insight @Fred Dray . In Florida, a pre move out inspection is not required and was not done for this rental. Although other landlords include this in their lease. I do wish Florida had more clear cut rules such as CA and IL. 

@Phil Earley The pre move out inspection and estimated charges seem like a good way to resolve disputes before they get to this point. I'll make sure to have it in my new leases (as a landlord this time) in the future.

We met with the property manager this morning. She was overall very dismissive of what we had to say and wasn't very knowledgeable of the property nor of any of the maintenance issues. We tried to explain that perhaps the paint they were charging was due to the roof leak. She did not know about said that their invoice does not mention anything about the roof. I told her that the roof was still definitely leaking even though we've alerted them 3 times after the initial repair, and that if they in fact did not repair it, then they should. She also would not make eye contact which bugged me.

When we said that we had move in and move out pictures of the property she asked us to send her a copy and she would provide a copy of the pictures that their cleaning and maintenance people have. We provided an email address where she could send the pictures and we would send her our pictures as well. So far she has not emailed us yet so I'm guessing she hasn't found them yet. 

A move out inspection is not required in Florida. However, I have done these before with other property managers from previous rented apartments. I brought up the fact that our old apartment is still vacant and perhaps we could perform a walk through to see exactly what the paint and trim charge was for. (I have access to the MLS and know that it was only taken off the MLS a couple days ago, also, we drove by and the property was very clearly vacant with blinds rolled up, etc.) She then became very defensive and was saying that that was "illegal". I asked her if she knew when the new tenants' lease started. She dismissed the inquiry and went on about her ramble about how she can't do that as they did not even have the key to it and it was illegal. I explained to her that it would not be illegal if the new tenants' lease had not started yet and they had the owners' permission to do so. I also assured her that they have a key because they provide a key to their maintenance person and pest inspectors. She never even tried to figure out when the new lease started. As a side note, this company does not show their rentals, but instead gives out rental property keys to potential renters so they can enter and leave as they please.

Overall, the meeting wasn't that great. But we did send our dispute letter via certified mail with return receipt requested. We will see what happens.