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  1. #1
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    Jun 2010
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    Default Being Sued by Former Tenant

    My question involves a security deposit in the State of: PA

    I am having some issues dealing with a former tenant. The summary of what happened is this: I had to move due to work, and I rented my house out to someone I thought I could trust. She lived there for 2 years and always paid on time. The thing is she also smoked heavily inside the house, and had a large dog which was prohibited by the lease. I had her sign a lease for a year, and then just let it go month to month at the end of the lease. When she wanted to move out, I told her that I wouldn't be able to look at the property for 3 weeks after she moved out because I live 9 hours away, and she was fine with that. I told her where she could drop the keys off and I thought everything was kosher. So we come to look at the place after she moved and realized it still reeked of cigarrettes, so we decided the whole house needed repainting in order to get rid of the smell. We worked for 8 days cleaning and repainting. After we were done, on june 1st she calls me and tells me that under PA law I was supposed to either refund her the deposit in full, or send a letter stating why the deposit or part of is being witheld, and she was suing me for double the deposit amount! Well I admit I was a little ignorant of the law, but again I thought her and I had a different type of relationship, and that she was okay with the wait. So I immediately added up the cost to paint, and it was actually more than the deposit, but I thought I'd be nice and only charge her for repainting 2 rooms, since the other rooms needed repainted anyway. So I wrote an explanation of the charges, and sent a check for the remainder. Well, she cashed the check, but is still suing me for double the deposit, minus the check she cashed I think maybe she thinks I won't make the 9 hour trip to defend myself, but she is mistaken!! Now I need advice on what to do. The thing is the law says 30 days after the keys are turned in, and technically she didn't turn them in until may 2nd. She tried to turn them in on April 30th, but she claims I gave her bad directions to where my father was, even though she didn't call me over the weekend to have me clarify the directions but magically found the place the following Monday. So I think by law I was within the 30 days. But assuming I can win the suit, I would like to countersue her for the time I have to take off work to defend myself, plus the cost of gas and childcare for that day. Not only that, but I really should not have even given her back what I did, because I found out later that even though I never had her resign a lease after the first year, she was still bound by the original terms and therefore broke the lease by having the dog. Is there any possibility of getting back the amount I sent her? Any advice regarding this would be greatly appreciated!!!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
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    1,995

    Default Re: Being Sued by Former Tenant

    Being a LL myself for 30 years, here's my take:

    1- Our tenancies averages 2 years, and we always assume the responsibility to paint after each tenancy. We paint whether the tenant smokes or not. Usually, we "South Asian" tenants, the problem is with INTENSE "curry" cooking odors, and since do not restrict our rentals to "no smoking", or "non curry cooking", painting the place is part and parcel of landlording.

    As LL, I do not find repainting after two years to be a tenant responsibilty, but a normal part of wear and tear.

    However, if you have to replace carpeting because of the dog, prematurely, then that is another issue.

    2- Once you found out the tenant has a dog, you must affirmatively take action to either have her remove the dog, or evict her for violating the lease. Having her stay on represents acquiesence of the dog, and that is the position of courts in most jurisdictions.

    3- Yes, you must obey state laws scrupulously on the return of deposits. I'm in NY, owned rentals in MA, and have to familiarize myself with their requirements on maintaining security accounts at banks, as well as the timely return of deposits, also in 30 days,with a letter explaining reasons for deductions if any, or face penalties.

    4- You cannot use the defense that you live 9 hours away, and place the burden on tenants for your management time and expense. If you live on the other side of the country, don't expect to be reimbursed for air fare. How you manage your rentals is your problem, not the tenants. I'm 3 hours from my MA rentals, but I used a relative that I remburse to do the running around. If you are ignorant of the local laws, and choose to deduct for something that is usual wear and tear, you have nobody but yourself to blame.


    Sorry to be blunt, but if I were you, pay back the painting deduction that you shouldn't have taken and be done with it. I never expect my current tenants to be responsible for paint jobs for my next tenants. I do have "early termination" penalties, for tenants who move before the year is up, explaining that I have to prematurely do a paint job that I expect to last two years. But if I have a tenant who stayed two years, I grab my paint brushes, get busy, and get a paint job done for the next tenant.

    BTW, many LL's in my area are too lazy to do paint jobs, expecting the new tenant to do it all. Once I rented my place in a day, with 6 applicants vying for it. They all explained at 3 nearby rentals, the landlords are too lazy to paint, figuring a paint job they did two years ago, with slight odors, should be good enough.

    Where I am, rents for single family houses goes for over $2,000/month. The paint costs me $200 and I rent my place out a month sooner. Do the math and tell me if it makes sense to paint or not.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
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    3

    Default Re: Being Sued by Former Tenant

    But from what I have researched, smoking is not considered "normal wear and tear". I would not have had to paint every surface had she not smoked, and I only charged her for the two rooms that had been freshly painted prior to her moving in.

  4. #4
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    Mar 2008
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    Default Re: Being Sued by Former Tenant

    Quote Quoting jmana
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    But from what I have researched, smoking is not considered "normal wear and tear". I would not have had to paint every surface had she not smoked, and I only charged her for the two rooms that had been freshly painted prior to her moving in.
    Here' the way I look at smoking.

    I got a tenant who doesn't smoke. No odor, he moves, I paint, still no odor, the place looks like a million bucks.

    I got a tenant who smokes. There's smoke odor, he moves, I paint, no odor, the place looks like a million bucks.

    Now, why am I making a big deal out of it?? Yes, some smokers burn holes into the carpet. But many do not.

    I was doing rentals 30 plus years ago, and just about everyone smoked back then. It was not wear and tear to me then, and it is not wear and tear to me now.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    Florida
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    2,344

    Default Re: Being Sued by Former Tenant

    Repainting is considered a normal landlord function after each tenancy of more than a year. Unless there is a "no smoking" clause in the lease, smoking is something many people do in their own homes. If you wanted to deal with smoking then you needed to put it in the lease. And when money is involved, or specifically you keeping their money, there are no "special relationships". Your tenent probably also believed there was a "special relationship" and now doesn't understand why you want to keep their deposit. Given that they stayed there over a year, I too consider complete repainting to be normal. Smoking or not.

    Your remedy for her having the dog was to evict her when you discovered the dog. If the dog did not cause damage, and you've not mentioned any, then how were you harmed by the dog? Her "breaking the lease" by having a dog doesn't entitle you to keep her money. And I don't see how you living 9 hours away from the property is her fault. Why didn't you just have her mail you the key and consider the postmark as the date the keys were turned over? Normally keys are turned in at the residence where they were received in the first place.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
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    3

    Default Re: Being Sued by Former Tenant

    Quote Quoting Bubba Jimmy
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    Repainting is considered a normal landlord function after each tenancy of more than a year. Unless there is a "no smoking" clause in the lease, smoking is something many people do in their own homes. If you wanted to deal with smoking then you needed to put it in the lease. And when money is involved, or specifically you keeping their money, there are no "special relationships". Your tenent probably also believed there was a "special relationship" and now doesn't understand why you want to keep their deposit. Given that they stayed there over a year, I too consider complete repainting to be normal. Smoking or not.

    Your remedy for her having the dog was to evict her when you discovered the dog. If the dog did not cause damage, and you've not mentioned any, then how were you harmed by the dog? Her "breaking the lease" by having a dog doesn't entitle you to keep her money. And I don't see how you living 9 hours away from the property is her fault. Why didn't you just have her mail you the key and consider the postmark as the date the keys were turned over? Normally keys are turned in at the residence where they were received in the first place.
    Can you provide me with any ruling that says repainting an entire house every year, or even every 2 years is considered a normal thing for a landlord to have to do?? Paint is supposed to last a lot longer than that! Personally I would not want to own a property with every surface being covered in multiple layers of paint, it's the type of thing you see in the projects, and my house is certainly not of that caliber! It is a very old house with lots of architectural detail, and there is only so much painting that can be done before that detail is lost. I lived there for several years and the walls looked just as good when I moved out as they did when I painted them! By your logic, a house built in 1960 should have 50 layers of paint on the walls! That's just insane!

    One other thing, doesn't her cashing the check I sent for $315 constitute acceptance of the letter I sent explaining the charges?

  7. #7
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    Mar 2008
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    Default Re: Being Sued by Former Tenant

    Quote Quoting jmana
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    Can you provide me with any ruling that says repainting an entire house every year, or even every 2 years is considered a normal thing for a landlord to have to do?? Paint is supposed to last a lot longer than that! Personally I would not want to own a property with every surface being covered in multiple layers of paint, it's the type of thing you see in the projects, and my house is certainly not of that caliber! It is a very old house with lots of architectural detail, and there is only so much painting that can be done before that detail is lost. I lived there for several years and the walls looked just as good when I moved out as they did when I painted them! By your logic, a house built in 1960 should have 50 layers of paint on the walls! That's just insane!

    One other thing, doesn't her cashing the check I sent for $315 constitute acceptance of the letter I sent explaining the charges?
    No, there's no ruling for "free market" properties in NY State not under rent control. many owners take the position they don't have to paint till the five year point, if ever. But it's considered good practice after each vacancy. In fact, around 20 years ago, people started wispering in amazement that not only does landlords not paint anymore, but some don't even furnish refigerators.

    But I like the attitude of my bullheaded competitors.

    I follow competitive properties that come up for rent and my competitors would take two months to rent theirs. I try to work something out with my outgoing tenants where if they can leave on the 27th of the month, I go in and paint, so it's done on the first.

    I normally get it rented on or around the 5th ( a five day vacancy ), sometimes with rent starting from the first ( no vacancy ). My last tenant was looking for over two months when she saw my house, the first week of May, and wanted to rent up as of Jul 1, to give her landlord the required notice under their lease.

    They like the fact it was painted and cleaned. I said NO, I got a waiting list, and Jul 1 is out. They said they'll check with their current landlord, and get back to me.

    They got back to me, and rented the place as of May 5, as they told they landlord everywhere else is a dump. They were friendly folks, got on well with the landlord, and the landlord only had them pay through 4-30, so they're in fact ahead 5 days. I could've push for five more days, but why be a pig, right?? They are the best qualified, with a family income exceeding $125,000/year, and a near perfect FICO score.

    If I dicker around like my competitors, and insist no rules say it has to be painted, go ahead. The place rents for $2,100/month, and for the two months the place is not vacant, I put another $4,200 in my pockets.

    Of course, I did spend $200 on the paint, so I have to factor that in.

    I just can't understand why my competitors want to throw $4,000 out the window to save a measely $200.00 on paint, renting out a dump?? Can you?? Why do everyone has to start everthing with "but I see no law blah blah blah". Does common sense count anymore?? Little wonder many people look at their landlords with disdain.

    I'm just hoping my competitors stay in the dark, and insist there is no law that says they have to paint, so I wind up with the best tenants, with practically no vacancy.

    Shh, please keep it a secret.

    Having said all of this, if they take you to small claims, they would most likely prevail on the paint deduction, not to mention penalties for your alledged ignorance of the law. There is no law that says they have to furnish a new paint job for the next tenant.

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