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posted: 10/30/2011 12:01 AM

Rental forum: Burglary depletes tenant's security deposit

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Q. About a month before the end of our rental lease, the house was burglarized. An outside door, screen door and two inside doors were badly damaged. The police were called. The landlord's father inspected the property at the time, as the landlord lives out of town.

I had renters insurance for my items that were stolen, and I was fully reimbursed minus my deductible. The insurance company informed me that the physical damages would be the responsibility of the landlord/owner.

Before returning possession of the house to the landlord, I spent nearly a week cleaning, including all of the rugs, floors, stove and patching picture-frame nail holes on walls throughout the house. All trash and garbage was removed.

When I received my security deposit disposition form, the landlord had deducted the repair costs for the property damage from the burglary, and it was greater than my entire security deposit. So even though I thoroughly cleaned and made repairs to the rest of the rental house, the landlord kept my entire security deposit. Was he right to do so?

A. It sounds like your landlord is blaming you for the burglary. When a crime occurs at a rental property, the tenant is responsible for insuring his or her possessions, while the landlord is responsible for the premises and any damage incurred. The only exception would be in the highly unlikely event that the landlord could prove you were somehow responsible for the damage.

Because no one would take steps to be a victim of a burglary, it would seem the only basis for the landlord to hold you responsible for the damage to the rental house is if he believes you weren't really burglarized but did the damage yourself and made up the burglary in an attempt to avoid being responsible. That would be extremely unlikely and unbelievable that anyone would do that, so I would suggest you immediately send your landlord a demand letter seeking the return of any amounts deducted from your security deposit for the damage done by the perpetrators of the burglary.

You should also include a copy of the police report and photos showing the damage to the exterior door.

If the landlord doesn't change his position, your next step would be to go to small claims court. Again, a copy of the police report and photos will tell the story about the property damage. But you should also include any other photos or invoices and receipts that would document the thorough cleaning and repairs that you did to the rest of the rental house just to make sure that if the landlord loses on the property damage issue that he doesn't then try to claim you didn't leave the property clean or in good condition.

Q. We are landlords and have a rental unit with three tenants. Two of the tenants promptly pay their rent but one of our tenants owes us more than $1,500, including his share of the rent for the last two months, plus late fees and a returned check charge. I would love to bring legal action against him to collect the funds. Do I take action against all three tenants and what action is best to take in order to get full payment?

A. The proper way to rent a rental unit with three occupants would be to have a single lease with all three tenants as parties to the lease with each tenant joint and severally liable for the full amount of the rent. That means you can seek the full rent and any other charges from each tenant individually as well as collectively.

It is also best to collect the rent as a lump sum from all three tenants simultaneously. This can be in the form of a single check or you may be agreeable to three separate checks. It is really your choice. In your situation, it seems you have allowed the tenants to pay individually, and one tenant is not fulfilling his obligations and has given you a check that was returned without payment. Assuming you do have a single lease with all three tenants, you can continue to seek payment just from the one tenant or you can contact the other two tenants and demand they make the payment of all outstanding amounts or face an eviction.

• 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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