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The majority of states hold landlords to strict guidelines as to the appropriate circumstances in which they must return security deposits. Landlords who violate these laws can be held to stiff penalties.
A security deposit is usually in the amount of one or two months' rent. It usually must be paid at the time that the Landlord and Tenant sign the lease. The landlord must place the funds in an escrow account and give the tenant any interest generated by such funds. Upon the termination of the lease, the landlord must return the security deposit to the tenant if no violations of the lease occurred. He or she may keep the security deposit or portion thereof for the amount of any damages, which can be proven, pursuant to the terms of the lease.
Basic “Wear and Tear” versus Excessive Damage
The general rule is that you are not responsible for normal wear and tear. For example, if the dishwasher must be replaced because it has simply worn out, that's the landlord's responsibility. See the bottom of this article for examples of repairs and damages that can and cannot be deducted from your security deposit.
If you or your guest cause damage by your unreasonable carelessness or deliberate misuse, however, you must pay for it. The cost of replacing the dining room carpet because you and your friends thought those pizza and BBQ sauce stains would magically disappear is probably on you. You must leave a rental unit at least as clean as it was when you moved in.
Because "normal wear and tear" can be interpreted in many different ways, disputes often arise. The bottom line is that the better you itemize and document the condition of your unit when you move in, the better case you'll have against a landlord who tries to gouge you on the way out.
Landlords are typically required to return security deposits within 14 to 30 days after you move out. The landlord must send, to your last known address, either:
Your entire deposit (plus interest, in some states and in some cities), or:
A written, itemized statement describing how the deposit was applied to back rent, cleaning, or repairs, plus the remainder of the deposit.
How To Get It Back
If your landlord fails to return your deposit when and how the law requires, you can sue the landlord in small claims court. If the landlord has intentionally and flagrantly violated the law, in some states, you can recover two or three times the amount of the deposit, plus attorneys' fees and other damages.
Ordinary Wear & Tear (Landlord’s Responsibility)
By Elspeth Crawford
In a perfect world, landlords and tenants can work together without issue, both generously doing their part to keep each other happy and not disturbing their neighbors.
In fact, lots of tenant-landlord relationships fit this description, but we've all heard horror stories about the exceptions. And laws that protect both parties have become so complex that understanding your rights can be like herding cats. Since landlord-tenant law varies by state, the key is knowing your rights -- preferably before you even sign your rental agreement. Understanding your state law and the terms of your lease are your best guarantees against future problems.
Common Renters' Rights
Although renters' rights vary by region, many are pretty predictable. Here's a sample of rights likely to be addressed in your state's landlord-tenant law:
Before you move in, tour the premises with your landlord, and note -- or better yet, photograph -- any existing damage. When you move out, if your landlord withholds part of your damage deposit, ask for an itemized list of charges and the reason for the charges. If there's a discrepancy between this list and the one you made before moving in, let the landlord know immediately. Keep copies of all correspondence with your landlord, as well as dated records of phone and in-person conversations.
If you have a dispute
If your landlord takes an action that is illegal in your state or neglects a legality, you probably have grounds for legal action, but consider court as a last resort. First make every effort to resolve the problem by talking with your landlord. This is the simplest and least expensive approach to mediating disputes.
If the problem continues, enlist the help of a neutral party or a mediator. Mediators are usually publicly funded and available free or at low cost. To find out whether mediators are available in your area, contact your mayor's or city manager's office and ask to talk with someone about housing disputes or landlord-tenant mediation.
If all else fails, you can take financial complaints to small claims court, provided your claim is under a specified amount. Before you take this step, be sure to look up local law regarding your responsibility for attorney fees. Most larger cities offer free or low-cost legal support for tenants in case of a property dispute. You can also contact your state bar association to ask about its lawyer referral program, or check with local service agencies to find out about inexpensive legal clinics.
Evicting a tenant can be difficult and confusing if you haven’t been through the process before. Even if you have previously evicted someone, there are plenty of headaches that come along with the eviction process. From start to finish the process typically takes about 30 days. An eviction may, however, take up to several months.
In order to institute a proceeding for summary ejectment, a tenant must have either:
1. Failed to surrender possession of the leased premises after the lease has expired, or
2. Failed to comply with the requirements of the lease and the lease allows for termination in such an event (ex. failure to pay rent or using drugs on premises).
Once a landlord determines that the tenant has done one of these things, the landlord must give written notice to the tenant that his or her right of possession has been terminated. Written notice is typically done by way of a letter sent by certified mail.
After notice has been given, the landlord may file the complaint for summary ejectment with the clerk. This consists of filling out a packet of paperwork that you can retrieve from the clerk. In Mecklenburg County, the current cost for filing the complaint is $96.00. There is also an additional $30.00 fee for each defendant the sheriff has to serve.
After the complaint has been filed, a court date will be set. The court date is typically between one to four weeks after the filing of the complaint. At the hearing, you must present your case to a magistrate. Depending on what you requested in your complaint, a ruling will be made on possession and rent that is past due.
If judgment is entered in favor of the landlord, the tenant has a 10-day period to appeal. If the tenant appeals, a new court date for the matter will be set in District Court. This can take as long as a few months. During this appeal period, the tenant is allowed to remain on the premises, but must continue to pay rent.
If the tenant does not appeal the judgment, or in the case of an unsuccessful appeal, the landlord may have the eviction enforced by filing a Writ of Possession with the court and having it served on the tenant. The sheriff will notify the tenant of the eviction date and ensure that the tenant is physically removed from the premises on that date.
If the tenant leaves personal property in the premises, the landlord must provide the tenant with written notice before the property can be removed or sold. The tenant is allowed a 10-day period to return and retrieve the property if he or she makes a request with the landlord. After this period has lapsed and the landlord has notified the tenant of his or her intentions to remove or sell the property, the tenant has 10-days to respond. If the tenant does not respond, the landlord may remove or sell the property. The proceeds of the sale may be used to reimburse the landlord for any expenses regarding the eviction proceeding and / or any unpaid rent.
If you need assistance in evicting a tenant or would like to schedule a consultation with an eviction attorney in Mecklenburg County, please contact Adkins Law. Adkins Law is located in Huntersville and primarily serves Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson, Charlotte, and Mecklenburg County. Call (704) 274-5677 to arrange a free consultation.