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posted: 10/16/2011 12:01 AM

Rental forum: Tenant cries foul over 'late keys' charge

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Q. When I was moving out of a condo that I had been renting for nearly seven years, I requested a pre-move-out and a post-move-out inspection from the property management company. It is not legally required where I live, but the property manager agreed to these inspections.

Unfortunately, the property manager showed up a day early so I asked her to come back the next day. She never kept the appointment so I held on to the keys, as I did not want to allow the property manager to see the condo without me being there and possibly find unjustified items to deduct from my security deposit.

Two days later, I got an email from the property manger wondering about the keys and threatening that she was going to charge me rent for every day that the keys were not returned.

I promptly replied that I have been waiting patiently for her to show up to do the walk-through. I had already moved into my new place about a week earlier and finally turned the keys in without a walk-through. However, the management company deducted one week's rent from my deposit.

I understand rent is payable when I have the keys, but I also know they are obliged to cooperate with me for a walk-through when I request it. I have documents to prove my move-out date (truck rental, new lease, etc.) and I believe the property manager is the one responsible for the delay in my return of the keys. Who do you think is at fault here and how can I get one week's rent back?

A. I think both you and the property manager share some responsibility for this situation. What you are asking is not the usual custom and practice in the rental housing industry of a pre-move-in and post-move-out inspection. This is fairly common and a good idea for both the tenant and the landlord. But in this case, you are asking the property manager to come out an additional time just before you actually begin your move.

Your goal seems to be that you want to know in advance what items the property manager is proposing to deduct from your security deposit so you can do the work yourself and hopefully ensure that you get a full refund. While I understand your request for a pre-move-out and post-move-out inspection, I think you were unreasonable in asking the property manager to come back because she came before you expected.

This may not have been convenient for you, but the purpose of a pre-move-out inspection is to just identify items that need to be cleaned, repaired or replaced because they were not within the normal wear and tear exemption.

As you say, these inspections are not required so the only obligation the property management has is its willingness to do this as a courtesy. So for you to set specific terms and conditions seems a little picky.

A basic walk-through could have easily been done before you began your move or during your move, as you would still have time to address any issues raised by the property manager before you officially vacate the rental unit. Of course, you indicate that the property manager agreed to come back the next day, and she should not have made such an agreement if she knew she couldn't keep it.

However, as an owner and property manager myself, I can tell you a manager's schedule is often subject to change and this pre-move-out inspection is a courtesy. Then you decide to hold on to the keys under the premise that somehow the property manager would have to come back and walk the property with you before determining the proper deductions from your security deposit. This is unreasonable. It is not required that you be present when the property manager performs the post-move-out walk-through, and if there were any charges that you felt were not justified you could still challenge them or address them.

You should have immediately turned in the keys when you moved out and reaffirmed your request for a joint walk-through in writing. This would have clearly given possession of the rental condo back to the property manager while reminding her that you wanted to do a walk-through. The fact that your only complaint about the security deposit accounting is that the property manager deducted rent for the week that you held on to the keys shows that it didn't make any unjustified charges.

So now you are asking the management company to refund the deducted rent when in reality you had the keys. By holding on to the keys, you were still in possession of the right to occupy the rental condo whether you actually were there or not. At this point, your best bet is to send the property manager a letter just as you sent your question to me and seek a full or partial refund, but I don't see a strong case supporting your position.

• 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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