Renter’s Woes

August 31, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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James and I have been renters for many years. We’ve lived in quite a few different parts of the country, and every state has a different way of handling tenants rights. In New York when our landlord tried to take our entire deposit because he had to repaint, I had to call him for months and argue with him just to get back half of it. We didn’t have a lease with him, so we didn’t have much legal recourse. In Kansas we never had problems getting our deposits back, but they were so small, it never seemed like much of an issue. Even our first apartment in Maryland issued us a check for nearly the full amount of our deposit even though we were breaking our lease and paying a penalty for that. Hell, even my very first rental in Missouri, in a college town notorious for never refunding deposits, my housemates and I got nearly all of our money refunded. We take good care of our property, and we’ve always been told we’re excellent tenants.

But this time. I’m. Pissed.

We got a check awhile back from our landlord for less than half of our incredibly steep deposit (same as the crazy rent), and in his itemized deductions, he included a $75 deductible for each instance of repair. So when the pipe burst, and the mice invaded, and the stove broke, ka-ching. We checked back over our lease, and sure enough, in an addendum to our second lease, there it was. In writing. But – hold the phone – this wasn’t in our original two-year lease. It was only added to the second lease we signed for the last 6 months we lived there. So really this clause should only apply to two of the nine instances cited.

So we called the guy. And emailed. And called again. And emailed again. And when it was apparent that he had no intention of resolving this, we contacted the Maryland State Attorney General’s office. They had some interesting things to say on the matter. Like how this clause is COMPLETELY ILLEGAL. And we should get all of our money back. So we filed an official complaint, they sent the landlord a letter, and whatdaknow? He calls me back!

We had words.

Long and short of it, he was only willing to offer us another $200, which would bring us to half of our deposit refunded. And when push came to shove, he pulled out the ace in his pocket – damage to the hardwood floors. Damn you, hardwood floors! Apparently when you spray mosquito spray anywhere nearby (like on the entryway tile), it strips away the varnish. Of course, you don’t know you’re doing it until it’s too late. He only charged us $400 for that damage, but in the heat of battle he threatened to take our entire deposit to pay for it. Even though he had no intention of repairing it.

We were at an impasse. Unless we were willing to go to court, I wasn’t going to get any more money out of this guy. And if I pushed too hard, he might find more excuses to take even more of our money. I knew it might come to this, so I decided to cut our losses, take his measly check, and drop our charges with the state.

After I hung up, I started devising all of these passive/aggressive plans to get back at the guy. But after talking to my dad-in-law, who was actually a landlord once, I realized that he’s probably out quite a bit of money for the pipe bursting and the mice and the stove and everything else. Even though those weren’t our fault, he really is just trying to get by. And he wasn’t really a bad landlord. He repaired things on time, and he fixed up the yard, and he was responsive for the most part.

However, I’m still irked about the $75 repair deductible. I did some digging, and it seems some other landlords have been tacking this onto their leases all around the country. And while the state’s statutes may not expressly forbid this tactic (as our former landlord contends), it’s still a pretty crappy thing to include. If we’d known we were getting charged so much for repair calls, I probably wouldn’t have made so many. Which I’m sure sounds great to him, until he realizes all of the half-ass repairs we would have attempted and all the money he’d have to shell out to make the house right again for the next tenant. Which is common, from what I’ve read.

So I’ve decided to post my story wherever I can to warn people away from this bogus clause. I’m not being vindictive – believe me, I considered posting my former landlord’s name and all of his rental property addresses with a huge BEWARE. But, no, I’m not going to sink to that level.

Instead, just a warning for renters. Check over your leases carefully before you sign them, and if you see any mention of a repair deductible or maintenance clause, DO NOT SIGN!

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