Late last night someone posted on the blog, wanting to know the outcome of my small-claims lawsuit against my landlord that I blogged about a couple of months ago.
To recap, we moved from our expensive Beverly Grove apartment in June. We were model tenants, and I thought the landlord and I had a decent relationship, so I didn’t do the things you’re supposed to do when you move out, such as invite the landlord over for an inspection and agree on repairs. I fully expected to get back our entire deposit; instead, she took out $600 for “paint touch-up,” cleaning, water spots on the cabinets, and scratches on the wood floor.
According to the civil code pertaining to security deposits, landlords are not allowed to charge tenants for normal wear and tear. I had cleaned the apartment before I left, and as far as the floor and the cabinets, I had no idea what she was talking about. And there was no doubt that she was not allowed to charge for paint touch-up, which is definitely wear and tear.
I sent her a letter demanding my money and didn’t hear back, so I filed a small-claims lawsuit against her and had her served. Apparently you can sue for two or three times the amount due to bad faith, but all I wanted was my money back.
Before my landlord got served, she sent me a certified letter with a check for $100, explaining that she had accidentally charged me for window cleaning. It was clear that she was surprised at being challenged, and she probably hadn’t boned up on tenant law until my letter.
About a week before the case was due to go to court, she called me to negotiate. I didn’t want to talk to her, so my husband did. She told him that she had had to get the curtains cleaned, which I frankly forgot about, and that the trashcan that had been installed on runners under the sink was missing. I think that trashcan was in the storage unit and had been tossed out.
Because of that, my husband agreed to split the difference, so we got another $300. But with the court filing and the service fee, I was out another $85.
I could have refused to settle, but the truth was, I didn’t want to go to court. Not only did the idea of standing in front of a judge make me nervous — I have a pronounced phobia of public speaking — but I wasn’t completely sure I would win.
I know I had a good case, but because I hadn’t done the things you’re supposed to do when you rent, like a walk-through upon move-in and move-out, it might have been a my-word-against-hers situation. But California tenant law definitely favors the tenant. And the fact that she provided no receipts to back up her claims of repairs was in my favor: Landlords have to provide documentation that the repairs they claim were made were actually made.
I think she will think twice about making arbitrary deductions from security deposits from now on. And I will take some lessons from this, too.
My advice to renters: Familiarize yourself with California’s law regarding security deposits. And conduct a move-in and move-out inspection with the landlord using a form like this. There’s almost no chance of surprises that way. No matter how nice your landlord seems — and mine seemed VERY nice — don’t trust; verify.