Landlord late refunding security deposit

March 29, 2013 17:58 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

If my landlord is late paying me my due full security deposit, can I charge him interest?

Consumer Ed says: 

If a landlord is wrongfully withholding your security deposit, you may file a lawsuit to recover it.  In the lawsuit, you can attempt to recover your security deposit, interest on the amount while it was wrongfully withheld, attorney fees, and the cost of filing the legal action.

In addition to the security deposit, interest, and fees, you may be able to recover three times the amount of the deposit if your landlord owns more than ten units or uses a third party to manage the units.  Before filing suit, however, you should consult an attorney to discuss your options.

Under Georgia law, all landlords must return a security deposit within 30 days after the termination of the lease or the surrender and acceptance of the premises, whichever occurs last.  If the security deposit is held because of damage to the unit, the landlord must send the tenant notice within 30 days identifying the damage, the estimated dollar amount of the damage, and a refund, if any, of the difference between the security deposit and the amount withheld for damages.  Finally, you should know that the security deposit, and any statement accompanying it, must be mailed to the last known address of the tenant (even if that address is the vacated rental property); if it is returned as undeliverable and the landlord is unable to locate the tenant after a reasonable effort, the security deposit becomes the property of the landlord 90 days after it was mailed.

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Apartment damaged due to plumbing issue

December 11, 2012 23:42 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

My apartment flooded because of a plumbing issue with the upstairs neighbor.  My bathroom caved in, my walls and ceilings got soaked with water, and my carpet was ruined.  The apartment management was great for the first four days, but now they say I have to find a place to stay on my own dime.  They say the apartment is safe.  However, there is no carpet, the apartment is still drying out and smells, and they still have all my stuff covered in plastic.  What can I do?  (I do not have renter’s insurance, but I am now going to get it.)  

Consumer Ed says: 

You have several options, but you must give your landlord a reasonable time to make the repairs before pursuing any of them.  Determining how long a “reasonable time” is depends on how serious the condition is, and the nature of the repairs.  Based on the extent of your damages, it sounds reasonable that repairing your bathroom, drying out your apartment, and replacing your carpets might take longer than four days.  Since you’ve already notified your landlord of the condition that needs to be repaired, you have two options if a reasonable time has passed.  The first is to hire an attorney and sue your landlord for damages caused by his failure to repair your apartment.  

A second option is what’s known as a “repair and deduct”. In this scenario, you would have the needed repair completed by a competent, licensed repair person at a reasonable cost.  If you pursue this remedy, you should notify your landlord in writing that you plan to use the “repair and deduct” remedy before moving forward.  Also, remember to keep copies of all receipts, and ask the repair person for a statement detailing the work performed and the problem corrected.  Note that the only repairs you should have done are those that get the problem fixed; you cannot ask your landlord to pay for any other improvements to your apartment.  Also, be careful to replace damaged work or property items with those of like and not greater quality or value, because your landlord will not be responsible for the increased cost of such upgrades. After the repairs are complete, subtract the cost of these repairs from your next month’s rent check.  In addition to the reduced rent check, send your landlord copies of all the repair receipts.  By providing both, your landlord will be able to see that the difference between the reduced rent check and what you’d normally pay is reflected in the costs listed on the receipts.

Additionally, there might be city and/or county ordinances or codes, which regulate residential rental housing in your area.  To find out if your area has any of these ordinances or codes, call the city hall or county court house and ask for the building inspector or the code enforcement officer.  You may want to contact the housing code inspector if you live in an area with city, town or county housing or health and safety codes.  Your landlord is required to comply with any such local housing codes. 

If the damage from the flooding is so bad that it is impossible, not just uncomfortable, to live in your apartment, and your landlord has not repaired the apartment in a reasonable time, this could amount to what is called a “constructive eviction.”  A constructive eviction relieves you from having to pay rent.  To qualify as a constructive eviction, the landlord’s failure to repair must have made your apartment an unfit place to live, such that ordinary repairs would not make your apartment fit to live in again.  As with the repair and deduct option, before you pursue this route you should make sure you get written assessments of the damage, as well as repair estimates from competent professional contractors.

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If I terminate my lease early, can my landlord keep my security deposit and charge me a fee?

November 9, 2012 17:49 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I moved out of my apartment before my lease was up. The property management company made no effort to contact me to let me know I owed a lease cancellation fee.  They claimed to have mailed two letters, but never did call me, nor did the letters arrive, nor was anything certified.  They turned me over to a collections agency.  Can they legally do that?  They haven't explained where they got the dollar figure from, nor did they credit my security deposit when sending me to collections.  Can they just keep my security deposit and not even count it as credit as to what I owe?  That seems like double-dipping to me.

Consumer Ed says: 

When you signed your lease, you entered into a contract with your property management company.  In this situation, the terms of your lease are legally binding. 

Some leases allow tenants to cancel the lease early but impose a set penalty fee for doing so. If the terms of your lease permit your landlord to do this, you will likely be obligated to pay that fee, regardless of whether your unit sat vacant or was re-rented.  The property management company is not required to notify you before charging you the lease cancellation fee, unless your lease says that it must do so.  And yes, the property management company has the right to refer the matter to a debt collection agency after attempting to notify you of the debt.

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, it is the duty of the collection agency, not your property management company, to validate your debt.  Within five days of the collection agency’s initial communication with you, it must send you written notification including the following information:

•    The amount of the debt;
•    The name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed;
•    A statement that unless you dispute the validity of the debt within 30 days after receipt of the notice, the debt will be assumed to be valid; and
•    A statement that if you notify the debt collector in writing within the thirty-day period that the debt is disputed, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt and mail it to you.

In most cases, the property management company is required to return your full security deposit within one month after you terminate your lease.  However, there are several conditions that would allow a landlord to keep a security deposit, including financial loss caused by your early termination of the lease.  Again, the particular terms of your lease will determine whether the property management company would be required to count the security deposit as credit toward the early termination fee that you owe.  You should carefully read your lease, and if it turns out that the terms don’t allow your landlord to impose a cancellation fee in addition to a forfeit of your security deposit, you may want to consult an attorney for legal advice.

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