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Article posted: 4/28/2013 4:32 AM

With security deposits, expect documentation of large charges

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Q. I recently moved out of a rental home. I know that I can be charged for damages to the property, but I am not sure about the cleaning. My understanding is that I can be charged for any cleaning that is reasonable. Of a $2,500 deposit, I was charged $1,600 for cleaning based on a $35 per hour rate. That seems rather excessive to me and very unreasonable. How is "reasonable" defined?

A. The tenant-landlord laws vary depending on the state in which you live. In some states you are responsible for all cleaning that is necessary to remove any dirt or debris that wasn't there at the time you moved in. Nonetheless, in many instances there are various issues that arise in which a landlord or property manager deals with an element of what is considered a "reasonable" cleaning charge.

I can see two aspects to the concept of reasonable in your question. One is that you are likely referring to the fairly standard language that the tenant should be charged only for damage that is "beyond ordinary (or reasonable) wear and tear." In the case of cleaning, generally there is no exemption or allowance for "ordinary or reasonable wear and tear," and the tenant is responsible for all of the costs of cleaning.

Another aspect of your question is whether $1,600 is a "reasonable" charge for the cleaning of your rental unit. At a hourly rate of $35 per hour, this equates to more than 45 hours of cleaning unless there are some charges for removal of trash or other items that you left or abandoned at the property.

It is impossible to determine if the total charge of $1,600 is reasonable or too much (or even less than what you should have been charged) without seeing the rental unit. But I can tell you that $35 per hour is not an unreasonable charge for a professional cleaning firm.

I should point out that I have seen some landlords attempt to charge for their own personal time spent cleaning, and that is fine as long as the length of time and the hourly rate is "reasonable" for comparable cleaning services in the area from independent professional firms. But some landlords have tried to charge based on the hourly rate they may earn in another profession.

For example, it is inappropriate for a landlord to charge a tenant $50 per hour for cleaning based on their compensation level of their primary occupation.

The bottom line here is that the hourly charge for cleaning is reasonable, and the total charge may also be reasonable if you left the unit in an unsanitary condition. Some states have laws that require you to return the rental unit in "at least as clean condition as you rented it."

If you were under the impression that cleaning was subject to ordinary wear and tear and didn't return the unit as clean as it was when you first moved in, it is likely that there would be cleaning charges. However, $1,600 is a very high charge and you should ask for a copy of a detailed invoice to see how 45 hours of cleaning was justified.

I would think that a landlord charging a tenant $1,600 to clean should have photos and written documentation from the cleaning service to warrant such a charge.

If you dispute the charges, you should send the landlord a letter asking for the backup and support for the cleaning charges. If you cannot resolve it amicably, you may want to consider filing a small claims action.

Q. Can a landlord put a tenant out if they owe one month's rent and the lease is up? The tenant gave a 30-day notice, but the landlord is telling them to get out immediately.

A. Yes, the landlord could pursue an eviction based on the lease expiration and unauthorized holdover of the rental unit or the nonpayment of rent. Typically, the nonpayment of rent is the easier case to prove and win for a landlord.

The tenant giving a 30-day notice after the expiration of the lease and when rent has not been paid has no effect in overcoming both causes of action by the landlord to regain possession of the rental unit.

Property manager Robert Griswold is author of "Property Management for Dummies," and "Property Management Kit for Dummies," and co-author of "Real Estate Investing for Dummies." Email rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com.

2012, Inman News Service

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