General Question

minamina's avatar

My former landlord deducted unclogging of grease from sink and damaged master bath light switch from 2 years ago. Is this legal?

Asked by minamina (16 points ) September 5th, 2012

I just moved out of the unit, and the deposit deductions included charges for unclogging grease from sink (fixed by landlord 2 years ago) and damaged master bath light switch (fixed by landlord a year ago). In addition, I was charged with cooktop damage replacement parts and cleaning of shower doors—neither of these issued were brought up during the final walk-through. Is this legal?? I’m feeling a little skeptical about this since the first two had already been fixed by the landlord and I wouldn’t consider them extraordinary damage…

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54 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

What does the lease say? That’s the controlling document.

woodcutter's avatar

It is surprising that people get much of their deposit back because there will Always be reasons to deduct as just living in a place will cause that. If it is normal wear and tear that happens then he’s a shit for forcing you to pay. Apparently he’s been keeping records of everything he’s spent on the unit and wants it back.
That must have been one effed- up sink drain if a jug of Draino couldn’t fix it. Was that how he fixed it?

wundayatta's avatar

Legal? Probably. They can charge you for anything they decide needs fixing after you’ve gone. I got charged for water stains that had been caused by leakage from potted plants sitting on the floor. Anything that is wrong that needs fixing to bring the apartment back to the condition it was in before you move in is probably legitimate.

You can try negotiating, but I wouldn’t put too much effort into it. I think that unless he gives you money back right away, he is likely to fight it for a long time. Anything you might gain may not be worth the effort you have to go through to get it.

ninja_man's avatar

Any time I sign a lease I kiss my deposit good-bye. You should do the same, unless you are willing to pay more in legal fees then you would recover from a settlement.

flo's avatar

Please tell us how he unclogged the grease? How much the light switch etc. cost and how much was the deposit? I mean it is all relative.

CWOTUS's avatar

Welcome to Fluther.

He’s being nit-picky and chintzy and cheap. Do you want to play that game with him?

Let it go.

chyna's avatar

The last apartment I had they charged me 25.00 for not cleaning the drip pan under the refrigerator. I didn’t know a refrigerator had a drip pan! They will find anything they can to keep your deposit. Never count on getting it back and if you do, it’s gravy.

flo's avatar

If he is ripping you off and if you can challenge him, I suggest you do. Some people do things because of the principle of it, even if it ends up costing them more. If noone stops gougers they will continue to. If the deposit is $500 and what he is charging you should only be $50 let’s say, the authorities know about it.

jca's avatar

You didn’t say what the costs were that he charged. To me, if it’s not a huge sum, let it go. The emotional energy you’ll expend to deal with it and get all pissed off about it, to me it’s just not worth it. However, if he’s charging more than say, $500, then I’d argue it or at least question it. If a hundred or two, kiss it goodbye and move on.

linguaphile's avatar

I lost my $850 deposit in one apartment for a missing broiler pan, which wasn’t even there when we moved in, and dusty baseboards. 2 months of back and forth later, I still was out $850.

Unless you have photos proving otherwise, they can say and take almost anything.

susanc's avatar

I’m a landlady. If I have to clean a grease trap, first I have to find out it’s full of gunk, because the renter isn’t going to tell me that, is s/he? then I have to go to the store and buy Drano, then I have to go back to the house and get the Drano into the drain, then I have to wait, then I have to flush it. How much is my time worth?
Well, in my other job I charge $80/hour.
Figure it out.

jca's avatar

I had an aunt that was a landlord a while ago. She used to do a walk through with the new tenant before they moved in, and went over each room and had the tenant sign that everything was in good shape (and if there were any issues, they were noted in writing). Then when the tenant moved out, the same walk through was done, to confirm that they were both in agreement with damages or if there were none. That’s a great idea and I don’t know why more tenants and landlords don’t do that. In @linguaphile‘s case, the missing broiler pan would have been noted so there would be no discrepancy.

gailcalled's avatar

When I was young and naive, I was willing to take a landlord to Small Claims Court over my security deposit. The official window washers, hired by management, had cracked a pane of glass.

So, my father “lent’ me his lawyer, also his oldest friend. The lawyer and the Management’s rep met on the courthouse steps and agreed to split the difference. I got half the deposit back.

Today I would have taken a picture and had the cleaning guy sign a document in front of me and the doorman.

susanc's avatar

@jca – Walkthrough at beginning and end, with photos, is standard practice.
The hairiest issue is usually how to define “ordinary wear and tear”, because renters (and I’ve been one a hundred times) seldom envision the cost of repair. You learn that by doing it over and over. Owners typically get good at fixing stuff fast and efficiently, but if you’ve never owned a fridge, a wall, a floor, you don’t have any reason to learn how hard it might be to spiff it up to its original condition after a couple of years. For example, water stains left on a wood floor when the bottoms of plant containers sit on them? You have to sand those rings down to the raw wood’s original color, which leaves a dip in the floorboards that you can never fix. You feather out the sanded area and re-finish it, working on your knees to make the new finish match the old. This takes time and skill.
Better to stop by from time to time and encourage the renter to put a goddamn dish under the goddamn flowerpot. This takes up your time too.
It’s not really a lucrative deal.

jca's avatar

@susanc: I would think it would be standard practice but both times I rented apartments (they were both very nice, upscale buildings with legit management), it was not done. I didn’t have landlords keeping my security either occasion, and I was lucky but also I’m a good tenant. I hear from friends that rent that that’s what usually happens, the landlords try to keep the tenant’s deposit, sometimes with good reason, sometimes not.

jca's avatar

Can the OP come back and tell us what the charges were?

Judi's avatar

What state are you in? I bill people for damages when they happen and take those dollars first when the rent comes in. They don’t forget because the money owed now becomes rent. There is a 10% late charge on rent so they have to pay 10% per month for those costs and will get a notice every month. (Unless it’s a large item like replacing a toilet or a window and we make payment arrangements. )
That being said, it would be perfectly legitimate to allow you to wait until you move out and just charge it against your deposit. I thing it’s generous of them. If you put grease down your sink and broke the light switch why shouldn’t you have to pay for that?

rojo's avatar

We provide move-in sheets for tenants to fill out. If you do not put it on your sheet and if it is not normal wear and tear then it is your responsibility. We also provide a sheet at the end of the lease outlining what we expect you to do and basically, we expect you to leave it as you found it.
For instance, I make sure that every light bulb is working and that every one of them is flourescent. In the contract it says that you will replace them in kind. If you do not, I will charge you to do so and I charge $5.00 a bulb. Yes, they cost me two bucks but who went and got them and who removed the old one and replaced it?
I would prefer to give each tenant every penny of their deposit back rather than have to clean up after them but, unfortunately, most people do not seem to care, at least until they get charged for it and then it becomes a major bone of contention. In your case, I would have charged you immediately to unclog a sink that you clogged due to your own carelessness and if you did not clean the shower, damn right you should pay for it. I am not your mama. Clean up after yourself. As for the broken appliance top, I do not suppose you bothered to point it out during the walkthrough did you? And if you were charged for ruined or uncleanable burner pans, why in the world did you not clean it up when you made the mess instead of repeatedly baking it on and ruining the finish? Or barring that, why did you not go to Home Depot and spend the $18.00 and replace them yourself?
Stop whining and take some personal responsibility for your own actions.

minamina's avatar

Here’s the breakdown of the charges: unclogging grease from sink – $100, damaged master bath light switch – $75, cooktop damage – $300, shower door cleaning – $100.

The first two were fixed by the landlord upon request during my lease, but nothing was mentioned at the time of maintenance about the charges being deducted from the deposit.

I wouldn’t be concerned about the other two charges—cooktop damage replacement parts and cleaning of shower doors—had the landlord pointed them out during the walk-through, as those areas were thoroughly inspected then.

It’s certainly less hassle for the landlord to just charge the tenant without any heads-up…I guess it’s true they’d do anything to keep the deposit, like many of you said :/

Judi's avatar

Did you actually break the light switch or did it just stop working? Did they call a plumber out?
Different states have different laws so to really answer your question it is important to know the answer.
In California they have to provide receipts or vendor price lists to charge you.
Was it drip pans that were damaged or the whole cooktop? Was it damaged or dirty? I wouldn’t think drip pans would cost so much.

rojo's avatar

Upon first glance, the charges seem excessive but then when you think about it the only one I can see that might be unreasonable would be the shower stall. With me, $100.00 would have had the entire bathroom cleaned but again, not knowing the circumstances…. Was it just not cleaned this week or was this accumulated grime built up over the entire time of your lease because your mama did not teach you that shower doors need to be wiped down at least once a week?
I know from experience it would cost me at least $100.00 to get a plumber out to look at a problem, more if he had to do any work and $75.00 for an electrician is certainly not unbelievable. And even if the landlord did the repairs himself or with his own crew, why should he be paid less than the going rates for either trade.
If the sink had magically clogged itself, I would pay the bill. If the tenant had sent something down the sink that should not have been sent down, I would expect the tenant to pay for it. Same thing with the light switch, If it broke under normal wear and tear, my cost, if it was abused, your cost.
As for the cooktop, I guess it depends on what kind of top it was and exactly the damage was. If it was a glass cooktop, no question that it would have cost that much. If it was gas or electric and had the enamel damaged beyond repair or used as a stepping stool to reach the top of the cabinets (voice of experience here) and bent to hell, why should the landlord bear the cost? And, again, if you knew it was damaged why did you not say something during the walk through. If it was just the drip pans, then you got ripped off. I would have charged $30.00 if I had to replace all four but, as I said earlier, if they looked bad and not the way you received them when you moved in then you should have replaced them before the walkthrough.
I just spent over $212.00 to replace a crisper bin and shelf and two of the plastic door shelf guards on the refrigerator. I did not charge for my time to order and install these parts. I should have but there are other circumstances I took into account.
The tenant also damaged the door shelf in the freezer, I tried to replace that too but it meant buying an entire freezer door but the cost of the door, plus tax and shipping would have been over $200.00 by the time it was through but the damage was more cosmetic than functional so I let it go. And then there was the melted plastic bottom to the freezer. The insulation actually showed through. I could not even get this part. The entire refrigerator would need to be replaced. Would this have been excessive? Probably so and I would have pro-rated the cost to the tenant based on the age of the unit but why should I have to pay for someone elses stupidity? They should have known better than to put something in the freezer that was hot enough to melt plastic.
Lordy, I love being a landlord.
By the way, we are not all in this to screw people over. I gave a former tenant his full refund back just last month. He had gone through his unit, cleaned everything including the stove (you would be surprised how many people “forget” to do this), replaced all the bulbs, replaced the drip pans, replaced a miniblind that had gotten broken, in other words returned the unit to me in the condition it was when he rented it and he got every penny back.

rojo's avatar

Sorry for the rant, you hit a sore spot.

jca's avatar

I would say for any renter (now or in future) if something is damaged and you did it, you should just go to Home Depot or Walmart and replace the parts yourself, if possible, like in the case of the drip pans.

As far as cleaning the shower, for $100 you could have hired someone to clean the whole apartment. Note to you in future: consider doing that or at least make sure that everything is decently clean.

I have never broken a light switch in all my four decades of life. Not saying it can’t happen, but I think if you use them like a regular person uses them, they shouldn’t break.

I think $100 to unclog a drain is what you’d expect to pay a plumber. It may require a snake and/or Drano, which means at least overnight the Drano has to sit in the drain, and that doesn’t always work the first time, so has to be done again. Did you not know the drain was clogged when you vacated the unit?

Judi's avatar

@jca, it’s hard to find anyone to clean a whole apartment for $100.
Us landlords are targets for frivolous law suits.
No one works on my property withou proof of liability insurance and workers comp insurance.

jca's avatar

@Judi: I know, I see people all the time or hear of them saying “My landlord did such and such. I’m suing him.” It’s like “okaayyyy!”

I have someone clean my entire house for $80. Granted, the first time she cleaned it was $100. But seriously, just to clean shower doors, $100? That’s a bit crazy, you have to admit.

A friend of mine owns rental property in a city in NY, a college town. She had a tenant leave rotten meat in the refrigerator when she moved out and my friend cleaned out refrig herself, charged $50, which I have to admit seems a bargain, but I think a refrigerator is more effort than shower doors.

Judi's avatar

@jca, if I has a cleaning company I would have a minimum $100 charge. You can’t just clean shower doors without making a mess of the tub and floors and if they have been neglected it can take a couple of hours. It sounds reasonable to me.

jca's avatar

@Judi: True. You would definitely know better than me! Lesson to the OP and other tenants: Make sure things are as clean as possible when you vacate.

rojo's avatar

Along the lines of personal responsiblility:
Several years ago I rented to a Saudi couple and their children.
One day the man calls me up to say that his sink is not draining, there is food waste in the water and his garbage disposal is making terrible noises. I called a plumber that I did my repairs, made arrangement for him to go over when the husband was home and that was the last I heard of it.
A couple of weeks later I contacted my plumber and asked if he was going to send me a bill for the repair?
He told me that when went over there he found that one of the kids had put a handfull of gravel down the sink. When he found out the cause of the problem the renter insisted he make the bill out to him and he paid it right then.

flo's avatar

I think the tenant should be given the choice. “I do it as the landlord and it would cost you this much, or you do it yourself.”
I am almost sure most people would rather clean the shower door themselves instead of paying $100.00. OMG!

Judi's avatar

In California you are entitled to a “pre move out walk through.”
If a manager has 100 units it’s not practical to keep sending residents back to clean. If they don’t know how to clean before they move out then the manager usually doesn’t have time to teach them.

flo's avatar

But the reason the manager sent the bill is because he is incompetent or I don’t know what. There should be no need for that. It is not like the tenant just up and left. If the manager said nothing at the time of the walk through, then it is a given there is nothing owed by the tenant. Otherwise what would be the point of a walk through, is what I’m thinking.

Judi's avatar

Defiantly poor communication.

jca's avatar

@flo makes a good point. If he told the tenant then that the shower doors need cleaning, she could have done it before vacating. I can understand that having previous tenants coming back to clean would be a scheduling nightmare, but in the case of the OP, if she had not yet vacated, she still could have done cleaning if he determined it necessary.

rojo's avatar

@jca In addition to rental units, I also work construction and part of my responsibility is punch-out; that is going into a near completed project and finding all the things that still need to be done. I can tell you from experience, I can thoroughly go over a job, record pages of things that still need to be done and walk away from it then go back in a short time later and find dozens of things that I missed the first time.
Just as a tenant has gone over his or her place and cleaned it and yet missed the, lets say, shower glass, it is just as likely that a landlord can go though the same cleaned unit and not catch everything that needs doing. This is particularly true with a tenant who has waited ‘till the last minute to get the walkthrough and is dogging your every step talking the whole time.
Just a different perspective.

jca's avatar

@rojo: True – that makes sense. That’s why I think a checklist like previously suggested sounds helpful.

rojo's avatar

That is why we provide one. It does help. Sometimes.

Judi's avatar

I have a paper called “move out policies” that I have people sign when they move in and give them another copy when they give a notice to move out.
It outlines all the little details people usually forget. (you wouldn’t believe how many people put soap on the top of the shower door and never clean it. ) it also explains that once they turn in the keys, they can not follow me around durring the move out inspection cleaning everything that I point out they forgot.
I no longer do the day to day management but I can tell you that communication is key.

flo's avatar

@rojo “I can thoroughly go over a job, record pages of things that still need to be done and walk away from it then go back in a short time later and find dozens of things that I missed the first time.” If the landlord/manager missed stuff the first time, was it really thourough? Also the missing things the first time around, and ”..dogging your every step talking the whole time.“_ are learning experiences. The tenant can’t be expected to predict that the landlord is going to miss stuff and come back.

And how does a person misuse abuse the light switch enough to cause it to break? I can see it being a workmanship problem or cheap material, I can’t see being charged for that.

And the tenant went 1 and 2 years without being told she will be charged. Why would any a landlord not let the tenant know that unclogging the grease from the sink, is going to cost them $100? That sounds like a racket to me. And what is not chargeable if that is chargeable? Maybe she would have moved out, had she known, or saved for the charges? Incredible.

jca's avatar

@flo: Your last paragraph was hard to understand. Can you explain what you mean?

flo's avatar

@jca If you would let me know which sentence maybe? I think it might be the ”...1 and 2 years…” part, which I got it from the OP.

I think the word “any”, and “_saved for the charges” (which should be “not count on getting back the whole deposit” is what made it hard to understand.

“Why would any a landlord not let the tenant know that unclogging the grease from the sink, is going to cost them $100?” Because the manager/ landlord means to commit an illegal activity. The tenant would most likely object to it, and maybe alert the authoriites that deal with Tenant and Landlord Act, or maybe decide to move out.
Unclogging the sink, and changing light switch is part of the manager/landlord’s job, (unless it is obvious that is it not normal, like in one the posts above the children and the sand) So there should be no charge period. but esp. as a surprise, 1 and 2 years later.

jca's avatar

@flo: “What is not chargeable if that is chargeable? Maybe the tenant would have moved out, had she known, or saved for the charges.”

That’s the part that’s hard for me to understand.

jca's avatar

@flo: I think unclogging a sink is above the landlord’s job, as most people don’t let their sink clog up with food and grease.

Light switch, I have never broken in my life. I think in order to do so, the tenant must have handled it roughly, abused it. Therefore, that’s above the landlord’s job, it would be chargeable.

flo's avatar

Landlords fix things, managers get paid to fix daily living related things, so not chargeable. I don’t know how bad the the sink was, but in any case he didn’t her know how much it was going to cost her in case she would prefer to do it herself.

We don’t have as much detail but I can’t assume just because the light switch is damamged (I thought it stopped working.sorry) what is the damage exactly? How did it get damaged?

Judi's avatar

We hire vendors to do all our maintenance. Our managers are sales and clerical, not mechanical.

flo's avatar

@Judi the major thing here is that he didn’t give her the option of having done herself.

gailcalled's avatar

@flo: Do you mean the “option of doing it herself”? Your language here is a little garbled.

jca's avatar

@flo: Tenant had the option a year ago when she had landlord fix light switch and she obviously chose to go with having the landlord fix it, not doing it herself. If she didn’t want the landlord to fix it, she shouldn’t have called him. However, if she chose not to call him and it was still broken when she moved out, it’s her responsibility to pay for having it fixed.

flo's avatar

Yes @gailcalled You must have thought I was referring to killing herself. Something like “doing herself in”? That was an obstacle to answering addressing the topic at hand?

@jca ”...he obviously chose to go with having the landlord fix it, not doing it herself”
No, It is not like calling a plumber. because it is assumed that managers fix things normally, for normal wear and tear. there is no charge. If it is deemed to be negligence or worse then the honest managers would disclose what it is going to cost them at the time And by the way we still don’t know what caused the damage. Even someone took a baseball bat to it, I can see the cover getting broken but the light switch itself it would take a lot of work to break, and the look at the cost at one of the major stores But we still don’t know if it is one of those that cost $38.00 or not.

Anywy I’m repeating myself. I’ll stop now.

Judi's avatar

Its the labor that costs. The part may be cheap, but if you can find an electrican for less than $65 an hour then hire him!
I do agree that the bill should have been given immediately instead of waiting until move out. If the cause of either problem was never determined, there is a chance you could get a sympathetic judge in small claims court.

flo's avatar

If a landlord is honest, he/she would have anything unheard of like that, disclosed in the advertisement for the dwelling, so perspective tenants would have a choice to raise their eyebrows, and move on to the next ad. That is why this is a racket.

jca's avatar

@flo: Apartment for rent: 1 bedroom, parking spot included. Clogged drains, dirty shower doors and light switch repair not included in rental costs. $900 per month.

LOL

flo's avatar

@jca Okay, better than no disclosure. Added: I would add ” Eg:” in there.

jca's avatar

@flo: It seems you didn’t catch my sarcasm. Of course, no apartment should include those things and therefore, no ad would indicate that they would.

flo's avatar

@jca “no apartment should” “shoud not” huh? You should not disclose things you want to disclose, interesting.

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