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posted: 7/24/2011 12:01 AM

How to ensure security deposit is returned upon move-out

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Q. I am subleasing a room from a renter of an apartment unit. She has a lease with the owner of the property and I just rent one room. But the renter did require me to pay her a security deposit. I am very concerned that when I move out, the renter who I sublease the room from will not return my security deposit to me because she irresponsibly spent it. I need to know my rights.

I could be moving out soon because there are many things going on in this apartment that are unacceptable to me. If she says she can't pay me when I move out, can I sue the actual owner of the building for the deposit? Or should I contact the building owner now and tell him I will sue him if the tenant doesn't return my security deposit so that he makes sure the tenant has my deposit waiting for me?

A. You have a contractual agreement with the renter of the apartment and not the owner of the building. In other words, she is on the lease and you have only a verbal agreement that allows you to rent or occupy one room along with possibly shared use of the balance of the apartment.

Even if the owner of the building is aware you are living in the apartment, he does not have any responsibility for any terms of your sublease agreement between you and the renter. That would include the amount, proper deductions and accounting or return of any security deposit. So it would be inappropriate to contact the owner of the building about a private agreement you have with the renter of the apartment who is essentially your landlord and is the party to the master lease for the apartment.

I also believe it would be a waste of time for you to sue the owner of the building, as the court would very likely dismiss your case because you do not have standing or any basis to make a claim against the building owner.

You need to address your concerns -- about the ability of the renter as your landlord (and the actual holder of your security deposit funds) to have sufficient funds available when you move out -- directly with the renter. This is actually a very legitimate concern and one faced by many who sublet rooms and are not on the lease for the apartment or rental property.

One solution is to insist you be added to the lease. If you are, then the landlord would have an obligation to properly handle the security deposit per state law and then account for any proper deductions and the return of any remaining security deposit to both you and the original tenant. Of course, you would still have to work out who was entitled to what portion of any security deposit returned. The landlord is not responsible for arbitrating or making these tough decisions as to who did what damage within the rental unit.

So this is a common scenario in rental housing with roommates where a deduction is made from the security deposit for damage in one of the bedrooms. It would seem only fair that the occupant of that bedroom have the deduction reduce his or her portion of the security deposit.

Where the problems become even more challenging is when the damage is in the common shared-use area and no one will admit responsibility.

I would suggest you speak to the renter of the apartment or your landlord about your concerns. Maybe they will agree to always keep at least the full amount of your security deposit in a bank account as a minimum balance. They might also be willing to take those funds and purchase a cashier's check or money order and hold it uncashed until you move out. This wouldn't necessarily solve all of your problems, but it would at least provide you with some comfort that at least the funds are available.

Q. For the last year I have had a small dog. I wasn't allowed the dog on my lease, but the landlord didn't seem to care. Now the landlord is requesting a pet deposit and did not give me the proper 30 days' notice, but only a one-week notice. I have a month-to-month rental agreement. Can he do this?

A. I find your question fascinating. You are admitting you brought in a dog without permission, but you are objecting to the landlord not giving you proper notice for the pet deposit. I think you should have contacted your landlord when you first considered bringing a pet into your rental home. Your landlord would have likely agreed upon the condition that you sign a pet agreement and pay a pet deposit before the pet moves in.

Under the way it should have been handled, you would likely not have needed a full month to pay the pet deposit, as you would want the pet immediately.

While any change in the terms of your rental agreement should be done in writing with a 30-day written notice, I think you should pay the pet deposit as soon as possible and be glad your landlord was willing to let you have a pet. Remember that your landlord could have simply terminated your rental agreement with a 30-day notice.

• Property manager Robert Griswold is author of "Property Management for Dummies." Email rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com.

$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$ 2011, Inman News Features$PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$

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