Playing ‘Devil’s Advocate’

No, this one is not about the ‘devil’. This is about who gets the most benefit from security deposits or some would say, ‘damage deposits’. I am going to attempt to explain what I think and why.

First of all, I have been both a landlord and a tenant, not necessarily in that order. As a tenant, I kept the landlord’s property in great condition. I called the landlord whenever there was a leak or at the first sign of a problem so that a little problem would not become a big problem. I never made any changes to the property unless I had received permission from the landlord.

I shall start with Apartment No. 1. It was a second floor walk-up. The doorbell did not work. I told the landlord about that, it was fixed in two days. Three weeks later, water was leaking from an upstairs apartment into my hallway. I notified the landlord about that. Three days later, the maintenance man was dispatched. He told me that what was leaking onto my hall floor was the man’s toilet water from upstairs. I thought, “oh my gosh, how gross and unsanitary!” A couple of weeks later, I came in late, turned the light on and there were four mice on the kitchen counter. I promptly jumped up on the sofa, screaming while my date was yelling at the mice. That was it for me. I called the landlord the next day and told him that I had had more than enough. He said that he understood and would let me out of my lease early but that he would be keeping my security deposit. Okay, I thought, “fair exchange.” I then went to a realty company and was shown a great apartment, again on the second floor, more expensive than the first one and in better condition. I signed the lease and moved in. The gas was not turned on, but that was all right by me because I don’t/can’t cook. I called the gas company and they finally came out and turned the gas on. A week and a half later, I come home from work and the ceiling from the upstairs apartment is lying on my bedroom floor. I moved from that apartment and of course, my security deposit was kept. The next apartment, there was a roof leak, 5 times. The property manager told me to stand in my bedroom with an umbrella up. When I moved out at the end of my lease after having given proper notice, I received $325.00. My security deposit had been $775.00. The only damage to the apartment was from the 5 leaks. I was made to pay for that and by taking it to court is how I got the rest of my security deposit. Landlords try their damndest to keep security deposits knowing all the while that they are not entitled to them, but they think they can get away with doing this all the same.

Now, for the landlord side of the equation. I rented my starter home to a couple and when I went to pick up the rent(I did not go in without their permission as that is how they wanted the rent payments made), they did not have it. I heard a sob story and gave them time to get it together. I went back two weeks later and they had only a portion of the rent ready. At that time, I noticed holes in the wall and inquired about them and was told that they were installing a train that would go all around the house by attaching the tracks to boards on the wall. Oh, no, that was not going to happen. They did it anyway. They tore the house up so bad, it was condemned. Of course, many people would think that I should have been pissed, but I was not and the reason why is because it was MY choice to rent instead of just outright selling the house. Yes, I calculated and took a loss. Now, with that being said, every tenant is not going to be the tenant from hell and every landlord is not going to keep their property up. And I very well understand that issues occur, however, who decides when enough is enough? In my opinion, the one who is dealing with the never ending issues should be the one who decides that ‘enough is enough’, go to court, take evidence of the issues and hopefully be allowed to move and receive their security deposit back.

What is happening is that many landlords and management companies are basically keeping security deposits that they have no right to keep. They are getting away with this because they hold the upper hand. Yes, tenants have rights, but not as many as people think. Not to forget that many landlords include in their lease, rules that are not enforceable because they are not legal and the tenants don’t know this.

When you first rent an apartment or a house, do a walkthrough with the landlord or property manager and make a list of all the things that are wrong. I would recommend bringing something to plug into an outlet to make sure they are working. Check the ceilings for water damage, check undeneath the sinks for signs of leaks. Turn on the burners of the stove, not forgetting the oven. Check for a smoke detector and see if it is working. Go over the place with a fine tooth comb because once you sign, anything that is not in good working condition, most likely will remain that way. Landlords promise you that they will fix this and fix that, but once that dotted line is signed, many tenants have heard, “when I can get around to it.” You see, landlords know that tenants have to work and many cannot take time off to go to court.

For those who choose to be landlords, remember…that is exactly what it is, a choice. If you want to complain about tenants wrecking the place or leaving without paying their rent, that is because YOU chose to rent your house or apartment as opposed to selling it. Background checks are all very well and good, but they don’t always tell the whole story. So, when you start bashing ALL tenants, remember that ALL tenants are not the same and you did have a choice. Just as ALL landlords are not the same. The problem is that there are a great number of ‘slumlords’ out there who have wrongfully kept tenants security deposits and have gotten away with it. I would advise any tenant who believes that their security deposit has been wrongfully withheld from them to contact a tenant advocacy agency or the housing court in your area. In some instances, filing fees can be waived. Do not just accept the landlord’s statement that he/she is entitled to your full security/damage deposit due to trumped up damages. Take them to court!

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