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Dear Consumer Ed:
We recently moved out of a house we lived in for two years. While tenants, we got routine lawn maintenance, monthly cleaning service, and always paid our rent on time. When we moved out we had the carpets shampooed, the house professionally cleaned, lawn mowed, patched all paint marks, and left the house in very good condition. My landlord now wants to charge us $30 for a new battery for the smoke detector, $90 for three door stoppers, $125 to patch paint for a small area and for water marks that existed before we moved in. The total bill he’s giving us is for around $1,000. When we moved into the house we did not report normal wear and tear since the house was seven years old. We left the house in great shape, and now he is overcharging us so he can upgrade the house. How should we handle this situation?
Consumer Ed says:
Generally, tenants are not responsible for any defects that existed when they moved in. Under Georgia law, there is a separate standard for landlords who own ten or more housing units or employ a management agent; such landlords are required to conduct a move-in inspection of the premises, and then give the tenant a list of any existing damages or other conditions on the premises. If your landlord falls into this category, but did not provide you with a move-in inspection sheet, he or she may not ask you to pay for any existing damages. If you were presented with an inspection sheet at move-in, and you signed the move-in inspection sheet before you identified the watermarks on the ceiling, then your landlord likely can charge you for these damages. Landlords who own fewer than ten units and/or manage their own units are not required to follow any inspection procedures. Understand that your landlord must notify you that you owe for the damages to the premises; s/he has the right to sue you for this additional amount if you refuse to pay.
That being said, your landlord should not charge you for normal wear and tear (slight damages that are the result of the renter, his or her family, and guests using the home for its intended purpose). Only if the home or its fixtures are damaged in any way beyond what is expected for normal wear and tear should your landlord charge you for this kind of damage. Further, the age of the item or fixture should be taken into account when you are charged for any damages beyond normal wear and tear (the amount charged per item should reflect the age and/or quality of that item as it was when you moved in). To determine if what the landlord is charging you is reasonable, check with different home improvement or other such stores to determine the cost of the batteries and door stoppers of similar make and age. For the paint issue, you may want to call painters and get an estimate of what the cost to repair would be, then compare that to what your landlord is charging you. If, based on your research, you believe your landlord is overcharging you (or is charging you for wear and tear that you shouldn’t have to pay), you have five business days starting at the end of your lease to specify, in writing, the items you don’t think you should have been charged for, or to contest the amount charged for any particular item. If you believe you’re being unfairly charged for any of these items, you should consult the Landlord Tenant Handbook on the Department of Community Affairs’ website (www.dca.ga.gov) for more information, and speak to an attorney....more>
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