The Casual Landlord: Dealing with the Security Deposit When the Tenant Leaves
Without a doubt, the most common dispute among landlords and tenants is over the disposition of the security deposit when the tenant leaves. Landlords complain when tenants want to use the security as “the final month’s rent,” but tenants argue that when they do pay the final month, landlords unlawfully withhold security knowing that the cost to fight them outweighs the amount of security in dispute.
So what is appropriate when a tenant leaves? Can the landlord use the security deposit to repaint the apartment? The answer is usually found in the lease. If there is no lease, common law applies. In either event, the rule is typically that tenants are only responsible for damage beyond the scope of ordinary wear and tear. Painting between tenants is not typically something that a tenant would have to compensate for, as this is an ordinary landlord expense. In addition, filling small nail holes, and “deep cleaning” the apartment for the next tenant are not unusual expenses and the landlord must pay for these from operating funds. But if the tenant does excess damage, then the tenant is responsible. For example, if the tenant breaks a vanity mirror, or makes a gaping hole in a wall, these would be tenant obligations to repair. Also removal of personal property and garbage left behind would be the tenant’s obligation also.
A good idea to avoid disputes is for the landlord and tenant to walk the apartment after the tenant moves out. Do this the day of the move out, and both parties should bring a checkbook. If the landlord sees excess damage, a reasonable repair cost should be assigned, and if the parties agree, both should sign a statement indicating the amount which is arrived at for final resolution. Be reasonable, and don’t try to hold tenants accountable for ordinary maintenance. Moreover, tenants must realize they cannot impose on landlords the obligation to remove garbage and other abandoned property. These things might seem minor to a tenant, but a landlord must pay someone to do that which the tenant was otherwise obligated to do. If there is no superintendent for the building, a landlord would easily have to pay $100 or more just to have someone show up to remove debris.