Tenant Challenging Deposit Refund

14 Replies

All,

 Thanks in advance for the assist with this.  Here is the detail.  We had a tenant which was a problem.  We bought her our of the lease basically by offering an early termination contract and paying her last months rent.  The 30 day mark has passed and from her 1250 deposit I deducted $50 for failure to remove trash and $210 for failure to maintain landscaping.  The detail around the landscaping is that she never maintained the flower beds.  We had a discussion with her about this in July of this year and spent 4 hours pulling weeds and correcting the issue then.  Afterward she never maintained through the end of her lease (Sept. 2017).  Once I recovered the property the bed were destroyed and I had to remove all of the plants and basically do rock over it.  I am only charging her for the labor at $35 for 6 hours to correct the issue.  The stone and other materials used that I redid the bed with has no part in this charge as it is my improvement on the land.  I provided her with the detail around the charges.  She sent a "formal request" for her money claiming that I didn't spend 6 hours.  At this point I believe that she will probably go through small claims (not sure what other means would be available for a $210 claim).  Before I put this out there keep in mind I have already paid this woman over $1200 to vacate the home and incurred holding costs because I did not show the property during her last month because of her volitility.  At some point I feel that a line needs to be drawn.  How would you handle this?  

As I know, landlords cannot charge tenants for the labor work the landlords does.
From my understanding, Landlords can only charge tenants for the work landlords have paid somebody else to do it.

Even the tenants take it to the small claim court, she needs to spend at least $50 to $100 filing fee plus many of her hours. She may just threaten you but won’t do it.

If I were you, I would risk that she won’t go to small claim court for the small amount of $210, and ignore her.

Worst case, she spent the filing fee plus her many hours, take it to the small claim court, let the judge make the decision, if the judge said I need to pay her, then I pay her the $210 after many months.

If the judge say I’m good and don’t need to pay, I still don’t need to pay her even she file small claim.

I may be wrong. I’m not an attorney, cannot give you any advise.

In the future, any similar situation, hire someone else to do the work, show the Tenant the receipt, deduct the amount from the security deposit.

With the receipt, even she file small claim, most likely, she would not win because you did pay someone to do the work.

Greg,

I think your alright , make sure that you have all your emails , Pictures and any other correspondence from all aspects of yourdaim and what has transpired. I would also make sure are within your States guidelines for security deposits 

I would just pay her and then you will never have to deal with her again. You can then put it past you and move on. The problem with the deduction is that it seems like you did the work yourself. I believe security deposits can only be used for the parts you buy to replace damages and the labor of paid workers other than the landlord. So if you hired a landscaper for instance you could charge the tenant but if you did the work yourself you cannot charge the tenant. That is my understanding about security deposits.

In the future though I do not think it is realistic to expect tenants to maintain flower beds. Replacing it with rocks like you did should save you headaches in the future. I can’t imagine that many tenants would maintain flower beds.

Amy Beth...  Agree.  That is why we did the rock as I will going forward on all homes.  The bottom line though is that the lease she signed states that she was responsible for the landscaping maintenance and she failed to do so.  

As far as LL not being able to charge for self cleaning of the premises / repairing damage I do not see anything specifically stating that for MO?  We do all of the work ourselves to save money, especially in a case like this which has cost me a few bucks.  

If you pay somebody and deduct it from their security deposit, you're still not out any money. Although, I do wonder how the big apartment complexes can charge for in-house labor, but a smaller landlord cant?
How much time does she have on her hands? How likely is she to do this? If the answer is yes you need to ask yourself if you even want to see her again. If she is going to have to take off from work the inconvenience may deter her. You could respond that you could have charged for the complete restoration. You have the precedent that you discussed this in July to mention. Hopefully photos too. Someone local may respond on if you can charge for your own work in your state. I advise in the future to try not to charge for your time unless it is clearly in your state allowed. It causes issues and to me $35/ hr for landscaping seems high. Although if she is not disputing the rate or that it had to be done just the hours I would stick to that point in your response.

Unfortunately I do not know the laws specific to your state. My earlier post covered the rules for deductions overall. Perhaps someone in your state could advise you more specifically to your state?

Colleen, thanks for the response. She doesn’t have the time but may have the will, in MO it is only $50 to file a claim. I have documentation to include photos from the July incident and I have a signed final move out that states the landscaping was off. This is just how she is, which is the reason we almost had to go through an eviction (if she wouldn’t have agreed with the early end terms). To the point if she does file in small claims court I keep meticulous documentation of every tenant interaction as well as all forms so I feel that my case will be made with clear facts. The total cost of the repair include the charged labor was around $600 so She is only being charged a fraction of the total cost. I like your take though that she is not disputing the cost per hour so that is a very salient point.

Update for any of you following this thread.  I slept on this and using some of the feedback provided decided that I would simply stand by my decision to charge.  I sent the below response this morning and will end all go forward communication with this individual.  Thanks to all of you who assisted.

 I got a chance yesterday evening to sit down and review the issue and your concern about the charge in full once again. Below are the facts that I came across.

Lease Agreement

  • The lease agreement clearly states that you are responsible for maintaining the grounds.
    • The early termination addendum executed by both parties did not change these terms.

Move-Out Process

  • On 9.12.17 you were provided a Move-Out / Key Return communication. In this communication 3 attachments were provided. In the attachment labeled Tenant Duty Checklist it states “remove all weeds from flower beds”.
  • Tenant final walk through: During our final walk through the weeds were notated on the final walk through sheet which was signed by both parties.

Total Cost of Replacement

  • Materials: $412.00 (Receipts attached)
  • Labor at stated in previous communications: $210.00
  • Percentage of total cost of replacement charged to tenant: 33%

The above facts outline the details and reason for the charge. It also shows that this duty was something that was fairly communicated to you. Upon turnover of the property the condition of this area (both beds) was above normal wear and tear and classified as neglect. The bed on the front of the house had to be completely redone. This included removing all weed / growth, installing a brick border, laying out landscaping cloth and stone. The bed to the side of the house was weeded completely. I am sorry that you feel this charge is unfair however I am only charging you for a portion of the total cost. If you choose to pursue this further that is your right. I am fully prepared to defend this position with the facts above and all other related documentation from your tenancy. After the completion of this review, my original decision to close this issue still stands. I will be moving onto new business items.

Just wanted to add that you need to know your state and local landlord/tenant laws before making any decision.  In Annapolis, for instance, they are extremely tenant friendly, and MD has a law that tenants can sue the landlord for 3X the disputed amount, so a huge incentive for tenants to dispute, so better just to give deposit back unless it is unquestionable.   In NC, if it's something labor intensive, I hire out as I can't charge for my own labor, but I can charge, for example, excessive cleaning.  I'd have to pay the regular cleaning portion, but the cleaning service will separate the bill and charge for excessive items, and I can charge those to the tenant.   As for your particular situation, due to the fact that you changed things, not just returned to original condition, and it's exterior landscaping (maintenance, not damage), I would be hesitant to charge for that.   It's in our leases that tenant is responsible for maintaining yards, but whenever we go down there (approx once a year or so), we bring an edger, Round-up, etc., and plan to weed and mulch all units' front beds as they never take care of the them, even if they mow the grass.  

Thanks Lynn.  I reviewed our state detail and it isn't clear on the labor charges. Either way the reason I didn't charge for the full rehab is BECAUSE I changed things.  From what I read in MO deposit disputes the tenant can file a suit for the amount withheld.  Appreciate your feedback and this is learning experience for me to ensure going forward any above and beyond work is completed by a third party.

@Greg Franck it took you six hours to dig up a flower bed? That does sound pretty high. I just had a vacancy and cleaned out a 2 foot by 8 foot bed in less than 30 minutes (maybe your bed was much larger). The challenge if it goes to court is proving it really took you six hours. Account Closed suggested and pay her the money. I question whether this is worth your time. Tenants rarely care for landscaping the way they should. That is why I only plant very low maintenance plants surrounded by rock. If a plant dies, I don't replace it. 

@Joe Splitrock Joe, thanks for chiming in.  If you recall this was the tenant that you provided advise on originally.  That advise was spot on by the way and worked well.  These are very large beds in both the front and side of the house and it had not been maintained at all.  It actually took me more time than the 6 hours and removed over 10 lawn bags of debris.  I had also contacted a landscaping company who stated that for a day laborer they would charge me $38 so the $35 per hour isn't out of the question.  As stated in my response to the tenant (counting the labor) she is only being charged for about 1/3 of the overall rehab.  Hopefully she realizes that pursuing this is not worth her time.  I reviewed the MO deposit laws and found that tenants can sue for twice the amount.  Either way I am dug in, as $420 isn't a big deal if I do have to pay.  At some point you just have to stand your ground, and I firmly believe that we have treated her beyond fairly and the deductions from her deposit are justified and supported.  I hope that all is well with you!

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