Dear Consumer Ed:

I am moving out of my apartment and just got a move-out inspection sheet with the following itemized costs:  Carpet - $75, Cleaning - $75, Blinds - $105, Crayon marks - $50, Damaged tub - $50. The tub is not damaged. Carpet is old (5 years). The apartment is clean. I thought these items were considered normal wear and tear. Do I still have to pay?    

Consumer Ed says: 

Depending upon how large your apartment complex is, you might.  Under Georgia Law, there is a separate standard for landlords who own more than ten rental units or who employ a management agent (regardless of the number of units owned) and landlords who own fewer than ten units.  Landlords who own ten or more units or who employ a management agent are required to conduct a move-in inspection of the premises and then must give the tenant a list of any existing damages to the premises before collecting a security deposit.  If your landlord falls into this category, but did not provide you with a move-in inspection sheet, s/he may not withhold your security deposit when the lease ends.  If your landlord did comply with this procedure, s/he may withhold your security deposit, ask you to pay for any additional damage not covered by the cost of the security deposit, and sue you for any additional amount if you refuse to pay.

Landlords who own fewer than ten units and who manage their own units are not required to follow any inspection procedures.  If your landlord falls into this category, s/he only needs to notify you whether s/he intends to keep your security deposit, and if applicable, whether you owe an additional amount for the damages.  S/he also has the right to sue you for this additional amount if you refuse to pay.  You’ll have five business days starting at the end of your lease to specify, in writing, the items for which you don’t think you should have been charged, or to contest the amount charged for any particular item. 

If these costs are only for normal wear and tear, the landlord cannot keep your security deposit. Normal wear and tear applies to slight damages that are the result of the renter, his/her family, and guests using the apartment for its intended purpose.  If the premises or its fixtures are damaged in any other way, the landlord can charge you for that damage.  Crayon markings, for example, might not fall into this category.  This is true even if the item damaged is old; however, the age of the item or fixture should figure into what you get charged for any damages.  The amount charged per item should reflect the age and/or quality of that item as it was when you moved in.  If there’s any damage to an older carpet (as in your case), you shouldn’t be charged for the cost of the new replacement carpet, but a reasonable amount for the actual damage that can be quantified.  To confirm whether a charge is reasonable, you could check with reliable sources in the flooring repair business, and get estimates from them to compare to the amount charged by your landlord.  Just know that you’ll likely have to pay this cost if you, members of your household, or guests, actually did damage the carpet.

If your landlord refuses to refund your security deposit, you may sue to recover the portion of your security deposit being wrongfully withheld, interest on that portion of the security deposit, attorneys’ fees, and legal fees in the magistrate, state or superior court where your landlord (or where his registered agent, if any), resides.

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