Help! Landlord Making Up Bogus Cleaning Charges

Keith wants some help with his landlord making up bogus cleaning charges when he left his apartment.

I moved out of an apartment a couple months ago. My fiance and I cleaned it before leaving, to make sure they don’t try to charge us for nonsense. But well, that didn’t help.

I have attached a copy of the letter I received detailing the charges.
$25 for vacuuming the carpet?
$10 for sweeping a tiny bathroom?!

And other “cleanup” charges. While I accept the gas bill, the others are just over doing it, in my opinion. Let’s just assume I didn’t clean up (which is not true. The whole apartment was cleaned)… is it not acceptable living wear and tear? Vacuuming a carpet, sweeping a floor, wiping down a sink? Is this not what they do when everyone leaves? I know the carpets were shampooed before I moved in, and the walls were painted. Is this not standard procedure?!

I know the charges aren’t high, but is just the principle of the matter.

By the way, the ‘trash removal’ was 2-3 flattened moving boxes I forgot to take out.

What is the best way to try to get my money back for these charges? I need some help!


Dear Keith,

You’re probably screwed.

It’s very common for landlords to invent cleaning charges. Depending on Virginia’s laws, you might have recourse by taking him to small claims court, but you might have a rough go of it without photos showing you left the apartment clean, or other documentation. Also, the filing fees, not to mention the hassle, will probably outweigh any settlement you might hope to win.

Probably not what you want to hear, but all things considered, it might be best just to move on.



Edit Your Comment

  1. dbeahn says:

    It’s always, always always a good idea to do a walk through with the apartment manager, and take the pictures during the walk through. If you can get the manager into one of the pictures, so much the better.

  2. matukonyc says:

    Unfortunately, Ben is probably right. The safest way to avoid this sort of thing is to insist in writing that the landlord or an agent do a “walkthrough” of the rental property before you physically vacate it. Then, make them sign something to the effect that everything is satisfactory.

  3. matukonyc says:


  4. d0x says:

    This doesnt make much sense. The only time you should be charged is if you trash the place.

    When you move out they are suppose to give the place a top to bottom cleaning, paint and possibly replace the carpets for the next person to move in.

    They shouldnt charge you to wipe a sink, or vacuum a carpet…hell they shouldnt charge to sweep because they should do that when they are all done cleaning anyways.

    These are bs charges all the way but you will never get that money back so just move on.

  5. capnfive says:

    Well, *threatening* to take this to small claims court could help him out. Even though it’d cost him more than he’d win back… the same could also probably be said for the landlord. They might take those items off of the list, just so they won’t have to deal with it.

  6. techgeekwill says:

    Oh My God.

    The same thing just happened too.

    We just moved out last month. This Saturday, I received a bill for $875. It included fee’s for replacing the carpet, cleaning the carpet, de-fleaing the carpet, painting the entire apartment, trash removal, full cleaning and some other charges. The icing on the cake is a charge for $784 to replace the carpet and padding, the apartment is a one bedroom unit @ about 750sq ft. The carpet is the cheap kind that you find in every apartment. It did need replacing as I accidentaly broke my wife’s nail polish and it got on the carpet.

    I will be going to my apartment tomorrow (Sat) to get an “Unaltered” Copy of my original lease. I am hoping to get the $125 charge for carpet cleaning and $60 de-flea taken off since the carpet was replaced. I will contest the charge for the carpet as I am pretty sure that it is extortion. I am also going to go by Lowes to see what the charge with installation is for a similar carpet.

    The kicker is, I paid a pet deposit. I paid an extra $500 for that. The final bill includes $250 of that credited to my account.

    Stay away from Western Rim Properties.

  7. chrisgoh says:

    You should leave a rental property in move in condition or expect to be charged. If you were moving in, you would expect it to be in that condition. If the owner has to clean up after you to put it into move in condition, expect to be charged.

    You might want to check your state laws regarding how quickly they are required to notify you of charges. When I moved out of my apartment from college, they threw in all types of bogus charges, but neglected to notify me in time, so I didn’t have to bother arguing the bogus charges. As soon as I brought up it was late, they knew they were busted and sent me my deposit.

  8. RumorsDaily says:

    Your deposit was only $125!? What was your monthly rent, like a bag of potato chips?

  9. thrillhouse says:

    You need to know the laws in your state. For example, in some states, the landlord must be able to photographically prove the charges as well as provide receipts showing the bill (many places farm the cleaning out). Also, a lot of it is “normal wear and tear”.

    You’ll also need to refer to your lease. Some will have certain things written in, and you know from the start that you won’t get it all back – carpet cleaning, nail holes.

    For this amount of money, its probably not worth your time. But it wouldn’t hurt to give them a big “Fuck you, too!” when you hand them the check.

  10. VG10 says:

    5 mins to remove trash at $12.50 per 5 minutes = $150/hr. I want that job. :)

    have they rented the place to someone else? if so, how can they hold you accountable for the room. were you there with them for the walk through? Hello, BBB, yes I’d like to file a complaint….

  11. niccernicus says:

    Note: some states prohibit landlords from keeping part of your deposit for carpet cleaning. Check your local laws. It’s a nice little sham landlords like to tack on for something they need to do anyways.

  12. tjrchicago says:

    It’s been a while since I was a renter, but I work with a number of guys who have rental properties, so…

    It is my understanding that normal wear and tear is NOT something that can be taken from a security deposit. Wholesale replacement of carpeting had better of been a result of you trashing the place and they had better be able to prove you caused the damage.

    Additionally, receipts MUST be provided for all items charged back. For instance, if a landlord doesn’t think you did a good enough job cleaning and does it himself, you get charged nothing. If, however, he calls in Merry Maids to clean and has an invoice for $250, you get $250 pulled from your deposit.

    I know these laws vary by city and state, and Chicago has one of the most tennant friendly set of laws on the books, but my guess is a Google search for your area will be most helpful.

  13. mzito says:

    I had a landlady in NYC that did this to me – entered the apartment after we had (mostly) moved out, but before the lease was up – cleaned the place, threw out some of our stuff, gave the rest to her employees, and when we discovered this, refused to give our stuff back claiming that “we had moved out” and she “didn’t know what [we] were talking about”. Threatening to call the police changed her tune.

    However, she did keep $1300 of our $2100 security deposit, and we ended up taking her to small claims court. She lied about the dates things happened, but failed to produce documentation of *why* it cost $1300 to clean the apartment. We got lucky. Documentation is key – even if I had brought some of the dated emails I sent at work describing her stealing our stuff, it would have been open and shut, but as it was, it was our word against hers.

  14. MercuryPDX says:

    I think you’re screwed. :( Write the money off as a learning experience.

    @dbeahn: Seconded, ALWAYS do a walkthrough with the manager/landlord and get them to sign off that everything is up to snuff.

    My friend Kiernan is a slob, and after packing up and moving all the stuff in his last Apt. he didn’t want to clean. He hired a maid service to come in and clean up, gave their work a nod, took photos, and left his key on the counter. When the landlord sent him a similar notice, he refused to pay and sued the landlord in small claims for withholding his security deposit. The receipt and photos saved his ass, and he got the full deposit back.

    Make it a point to ask your next landlord what the move out procedures are, what kind of damage is expected as “normal Wear and Tear” and what isn’t.

    I was dinged at one place for not patching the nail holes in the wall before they repainted for the next tenant.

  15. nweaver says:

    For California:

    A: Take photos.

    B: THe landlorn can’t charge for normal wear and tear.

    C: If the landlord doesn’t pay your deposit back and you take him to court (small claims) and win, you get triple-damages.

  16. Obviously, since they vacuume at Langley Properties, not “vacuum” like at other places, that costs more. A lot more. That extra “e” means premium, baby!

    I’m going down to southern CT tomorrow to look at a condo. Excellent price, newly-renovated, and across the street from the beach. Could anything be better? I hope not!

  17. faust1200 says:

    This is pretty much my line of work now and I used to be an actual apartment manager anyway, it’s hard to say what is right without seeing the actual apartment. I must agree that it is unusual to charge $5 for “wiping the sink” From the invoice there it seems like your apartment was in decent shape and it was just left with some small things to do. Typically, WE wouldn’t charge someone in that case since we are glad the apartment is in good shape but it doesn’t mean we couldn’t. I can imagine if anything charging $25 for a general cleaning, encompassing the “wipedown” and the vaccum. Yes, as the above posters said you should have done a walkthru with the manager, who probably would have said “vacuum the carpet, wipe the sink, etc.” Legally you are obligated to bring it back to the condition you had it when you moved in minus wear and tear. Anything else, they may charge you for. You can try calling the management company. There is a chance they would simply erase the charges than to hear you complain.

  18. kamikasee says:

    My current landlord (a managment company) has a very innovative solution to this problem. When you move out of the apartment, it only has to be “broom clean” which means no trash or personal items. Beyond that, it is the responsibility of the new tenant to clean it to their satisfaction.

    This is great because that way when you work hard to clean the apartment, you get to enjoy the benefits of that work, as opposed to busting your butt for the benefit of the new tenant. If you don’t want to do it yourself, they provide you with a sheet of reputable cleaning services (although you have to pay for the cleaning out of your own pocket).

    To be fair, the apartment was pretty clean when I moved in. I suppose you could really get screwed if it was a mess.

  19. landsnark says:

    Having been screwed several times by landlords in Virginia, I happen to know that landlords are prohibited from charging for “normal wear and tear”. But, unfortunately, I think Ben is right – actually enforcing the law might be more trouble than it is worth here.

  20. clementine says:

    When I signed my lease, they gave me a price list upfront about what they will charge for those items when I move out. I then filled out a form that noted all the previous damage that existed when I moved into the place. I will fill out another form when I leave that is a photocopy of the one I was given when I signed the lease that notes any damage that is evident. They have stated that they will not charge me for normal wear and tear, etc. and that they will charge for negligence, major damage, etc. The next time you lease, try getting them to tell you how they deal with move outs before you rent.

  21. Wiseacre says:


    What planet are you from? The grade of carpet that is uses on apartments isn’t that good. (Yes, I know because one of my clients owns 250 apartment buildings on the West Coast.)

    It’s not going to look like the day you moved in, when you move out three years later. Even in California, which is arguably the most renter-friendly state in the Union, the landlord cannot charge a tenant for ordinary wear and tear.

  22. SadSam says:

    Well, gotta post as a representative of the dark side (my husband and I own a couple of rental properties). We always try our best to be fair and reasonable with our tenants when they move out. If you have stayed for the entire period of the lease term, always paid your rent on time, have not done major damage, and provided proper notice of non-renewal of the lease, we would bend over backwards to be fair with you. For our tenants, we have built in (and yes its legal and we could charge more but we don’t) a lease break fee that covers the cost of cleaning the carpets, advertising the rental unit and the basic cleaning of the unit. If our tenants break the lease we charge the lease break fee plus any damages out of their security deposit (i.e. they smoked the entire house out, had a pet rabbit hoppin and poopin all over) we don’t, however, charge rent for the remainder of the lease period (permitted in our state). If our tenants don’t break the lease and leave the rental unit in decedent shape (no trash, furniture, clothes, or other crap is left behind) and they have made a good faith effort to clean (cleaned the kitchen, bath, and removed all food from the ‘fridge) and have not ruined the carpet (ruined = won’t come clean with prof. carpet cleaner) and returned all keys we refund all security deposit monies.

  23. cracker002 says:

    Virginia’s one of the worst places on earth. Laws are uniformly pro-business (including pro-landlord), so bogus cleaning charges are hardly surprising. But this sure doesn’t seem like a lot of money. If I had to clean that apartment, that’s the least I would charge.

  24. dgandy says:

    I had this happen to me last year. I ensured that every light bulb was fresh in the apt, and yet when i moved out they ‘found’ 5 bulbs out (@ $5 a pop).

    The thing that outraged me the most was that they charged every resident $20 for the increased gas prices that summer. This was not a charge for natural gas, it was a charge for automotive fuel for picking up my $5 lightbulbs. Where the hell were they buying those bulbs anyway? The management even had the audacity to tell me it wasn’t a big deal, only $5 per person in the apt (4 roommates total). Take that $20 and multiply it by the 200 units they had…

    I heed and hawed for a while but there is little I could do when I had the check in hand.

  25. marciepooh says:

    Last time I had to move out an apartment I put a note in with my rent saying when I’d be out and asked for piant to touch up the walls where I’d filled nail holes. (BTW, I didn’t prorate the rent for the partial month) Never saw the manager all month. So I filled ALL the holes in the walls, most of which were not mine and included a hole where a molly had been pulled out of the bathroom wall by a previous tenet(Dad fixed the wall paper). Cleaned up, including the fridge and freezer, and left. Guess she didn’t notice the big U-Haul in the parking lot for 2 days.

    A friend told me nobody gets their deposit back at that apartment complex. Now I’m glad didn’t get a bill!

  26. defectiveburger says:

    The best advice I ever got actually did come from a former landlord of mine. After being given a HUGE list of things which needed to be cleaned in order to assure a full refund of the security deposit, she told us to actually keep a notebook and document what you clean and when. When I was finished, I had 5 pages of “6/12/002 at 5:45PM-Mopped downstairs bathroom floor, cleaned all cabinents, surfaces, and mirror, cleaned and bleached sinks and bathtub”

    Yeah. They tried to charge me $400 for cleaning the apartment they claimed I hadn’t cleaned, but immediately revoked all charges and provided my deposit in full after I showed them my dated/timed log of cleaning.

    Next–take pictures of before/after you clean to prove you cleaned. Fair enough, proves you did something, so long as you can photograph it and prove there’s a change.

  27. JohnMc says:

    Following up on others suggestions. Here’s is what I have done in the past:

    1) Take photos the day you let the place and have the apt manager counter sign everyone of them. Specifically photo any existing damage.

    2) The day you have cleaned up you take more photos of the place. You do the walk thu and then you have the apt manager counter sign the new photos as well. If you can talk them into it you ask for a check for your deposit then and there. If they balk then have them sign a release that there is no chargable items and you expect full remittence. If they still balk, give them the card to your attorney.

    3) You send copies of both beginning and ending photos to the apt complex. You keep copies as well.

    You want to put them on notice that YOU are prepared to take appropriate action and have the evidence to prove it. That usually nips such games in the bud.

  28. mikesfree says:

    Really though, being a former land lord, I was way too nice. No landlord wants to clean up after you, and none of them want to charge you either. It takes time… precious time… to clean a mess you should have cleaned up. Then they have to bill it out. You are probably getting charged the same thing they did for the service from a cleaning team. If you dont clean up to the extent that it looks like it did when you moved in, expect to pay something.

    And for the love of all things holy – CLEAN THE OVEN. I dont have 4 hours to scrape everything up that you put in there for the last 2 years. I charged about $20 an hour for cleaning, which is less than many.

  29. Jiminy Christmas says:

    I have to join the chorus here: you’re either screwed or if you’re not screwed it’s not worth the trouble. Where I live, the filing fee for housing court is $50. Add in your time to assemble documentation and appear in court and it’s not likely worth your time.

    The other thing to keep in mind about housing court is that it generally exists for the benefit of those who own the housing, not those who rent. You will not enjoy the benefit of the doubt.

    As for the individual being charged for carpet replacement, here’s something that might work to your advantage: The useful life of carpeting is generally considered to be 7 years.

    So, if it was brand spanking new when you moved in, and you ruined it, you’re liable for new carpet. On the other hand, if the carpet was 5 years old when you moved in and 6 years old when you moved out you should only be liable for the amortized value of the carpet. Assuming you are responsible for damaging the carpet and it only had one year of useful life left, you should only be on the hook for about 15% of the replacement cost.

    Same goes with paint: was the the paint brand new when you moved in? If not, you shouldn’t be paying the full cost of a new paint job.

    Lastly, this may certainly vary by city but I have never lived anyplace where the landlord was required (by law) to paint, clean carpets, etc. As long as they are not actually violating the building code anything goes.

  30. jeffislouie says:

    Don’t just listen to the schmoes on here.
    I recently had an issue with my ex-landlord and everyone told me I was screwed too.
    Here’s an idea, and it’s not a crazy one either. Google an attorney who specializes in tenant/landlord issues. I did. My landlord wanted to charge me for cleanup (there wasn’t any as I hired a cleaning crew), light bulbs (which were all working), repainting, etc. It turns out that the law was on my side. They tried to short me my security deposit and I had my lawyer sue them. They settled out of court and I won. My security deposit was $1125 and I got $2450 because of the strict tenant/landlord laws out there….
    It doesn’t cost anything to talk to a lawyer about it – they will give you a thumbs up or down.
    Here’s the local law:
    There is a reasonable wear and tear exception – they are not allowed to ding you for vaccumin unless the floor was filthy and they cannot charge you for lightbulbs (reasonable wear).
    Google is your friend.
    This took me five minutes to research which makes you wonder why not even the great consumerist web eds managed to provide you with any real information.
    I won my case.
    You might have one too.
    Don’t give up!

  31. geez, this makes me thankful for my last landlord before I bought! (Full deposit and pet deposit back for only reasonable cleaning when I moved out, not deeeeeeep cleaning.)

  32. missdona says:

    Our landlords left us nice little piles of dust and garbage in the closets when we moved in.

    Great people, our landlords.

  33. Scuba Steve says:

    Ugh. Such balances should be delivered by rock through the window.

  34. infinitysnake says:

    @nweaver: True, they cannot charge for ‘wear and tear.’ They CAN charge for cleaning, if you leave a mess. Wear and tear is scuffs, worn flooring, minor dings, etc., but doesn’t cover dirt, holes, paint on the carpet, cat pee, that sort of thing.

    It’s always best to take pictures when you move in, and again when you leave, and get a walkthrough note.

  35. moorie679 says:

    do what i did…..don’t pay it, thats what i did when the landlord tried to charge me for the dust on the light fixtures……..

  36. lihtox says:

    How about contacting the local paper? Bad publicity may sway the landlord, and in any case people should be warned about this kind of behavior. (In addition to outing this landlord, the article could cover the tips already mentioned here.)

  37. mapletree7 says:

    Out of luck? Not a chance. This isn’t a deduction from a security deposit that he needs to try to recopu – it’s a bill, whioch he is NOT obligated to pay.

    Reply with a stiffly-worded letter disputing the charges and asserting that you complied with Virginia tenant obligations.

    You’ll find a link to VA tenant laws here

    Links on the same page will get you phone numbers to state agencies who can back up your assertion that you are not obligated to pay these charges.

  38. twonine says:

    Just moved out of an apt in CA. Still waiting for my final bill. We cleaned that place like we were trying to cover up a murder-scene.

    Unfortunately our new dog spent his first day alone digging at the carpet by the door so our carpet had to be replaced. This is what the landlord explained about replacement fees in CA:

    “Lifespan” is legally 3 years. Assuming brand-new carpet at move in, and they replace when you move out:
    After 1 year, you pay 2/3 cost.
    After 2 years, pay 1/3 cost.
    After 3 years, free!! (go nuts!)

    Just FYI.

  39. calvinneal says:

    Most states have laws that are applicable. If you live in Michigan it is pa 348 of 1972. Landlords usually try to skirt the law. Many of them are shocked when they lose in court/ In Michigan the landlord has an obligation to return the security deposit in full, can deduct only damage (not cleaning), must escrow the deposit and the deposit cannot be more than 1 1/2 times the monthly rent. A State approved check list must be signed both before and after by both the tenant and Apartment owner. If any of these conditions are violated, the punishment is a refund of 2 1/2 times the security deposit. Public Acts for every state are available on the internet. Know your rights.

  40. rhagen says:

    jeffislouie is right! Do a little research you dont have to feel screwed or intimated by the process of a recourse. The law is normally very friendly to tenants and their plight. The landlord will have to prove the reasonablness of its withholding. Speciffically, whether a person who removes trash charges 12.50 for 5 mins or $150 an hour.

    To twonine, CA law allows the landlord 21 days to send you your deposit back and/or an invoice detailing deductions. After 21 days you can get all of you deposit back — even if there was damage. Dont be afraid of small claims it costs less than $50 to file a case and since you are renting in CA i assume you had a high rent and a large deposit.

  41. abstinenceman says:

    I had this problem (along with others) with my landlord in Wisconsin (mostly because my landlords thought it was fun to show up drunk and verbally abuse me and my girlfriend). After a couple encounters I went to my city hall and researched regulations and found the contact information for Wisconsin’s Department of Consumer Protection. Calling them let me ask specific questions about any situation I was in and they gave me answers as well as other advice.

  42. rich815 says:

    Unless you did your “cleaning” at a professional level it’s fully acceptable for a landlord to charge for a professional cleaning to put the place in rentable condition. Be serious now, how many of us actually clean a place enough to where it would be clean enough for US to want to move into? A layman’s cleaning job and a cleaning done by a pro is a big difference usually. Either way they should be able to give a receipt for the cleaning charge they were charged.

  43. LAGirl says:

    Bottom line: landlords are scummy, bottom-feeding dirtbags.

    when i moved out of my last apartment, i knew my landlord would try to screw me. i’d lived there for 4 years, and had many, many problems with this guy.

    i left my place in perfect condition. i hired a cleaning service, my boyfriend patched all holes left from nails, the carpet was shampooed. all it needed was a fresh coat of paint, and the landlord can’t charge you for this. i did a walk-through with the manager who confirmed that it was in good shape. we even took photos.

    in LA, a landlord has 3 weeks to return a security deposit. if it is sent out after the 3 weeks, they forfeit their right to make ANY deductions. of course i received my deposit after 3 weeks and there were several bogus deductions. the most outrageous was a $100 fee to clean a ceiling fan, there was another $300 deduction for ‘repairs’.

    i sent him a letter by certified mail, demanding a refund for all deductions taken, since (a) i’d hired a cleaning service, patched the holes and left the place in great condition and (b) the deposit was returned AFTER the 3 weeks period. i also calculated the interest owed for the 4-year period (which you are entitled to in Los Angeles county).

    this started a series of letters back and forth with some idiot in his lawyer’s office. they eventually sent a refund for cleaning the ceiling fan, but that was it.

    in the end, they were just dicking me around. to get the remainder of my deposit, i would have had to take him to small claims. i had photos, i had the invoice from the cleaning company, so i would have had a strong case. i ultimately decided that the time lost from work, going to court and filing fees to collect the additional few hundred dollars, wouldn’t have been worth it.

    i think that’s what they count on.

  44. wds says:

    Your landlord should have given you a check list of the condition of the apartment when you moved in – if you don’t get one, here’s a link where you can find

    Go through the apartment with a fine-tooth comb and list EVERYTHING. When you leave – return the apartment to it’s original condition.

    As others have stated, they can not charge for normal wear and tear.

    @rich815 – sorry, but it’s NOT acceptable to charge for professional cleaning. That’s part of make-ready for the next tenant, and is done after maintenance has done their job. The only time I charged a major fee occurred when upon move-out I found that one of my tenants has used the 2nd bedroom bathtub as a gigantic litter box for her cats – and left it.

  45. FredTheCat says:

    I had an experience with a house I rented for 5 years a while back. Prior to moving in to the house the agent and I walked through making note of various pre-existing issues (holes in walls, a waterlogged sink cabinet, etc). Everything was fine until the pool pump stopped working and the management company completely ignored it until the pool became a green swamp and finally a neighbor called the city and we were issued a city code violation. The management company promptly drained the pool, fixed the pump, refilled the pool…and then gave us a 60-day notice. I attempted to work it out with them in hopes of avoiding taking them to court for retaliatory eviction but they insisted it wasn’t a factor and that the owner was moving back in. Fine, whatever…we moved and then received an invoice from the management company not only claiming the entire $1500 security deposit but also demanding an additional hundred dollars or so. What was on the list of repairs? “Holes in walls, replacing sink cabinet”, etc. I immediately sued the management company and homeowner in small claims court and stood there grinning as the judge compared the pre-existing list to the list they were charging me for and removed virtually every charge. When the management company tried to explain that they were charging for “sanding and painting” in an admittedly nicotine-stained room the judge wouldn’t even let them finish before crossing that one off too. In the end I got almost my entire deposit back. Unfortunately I was so flustered during the court session I forgot to mention the fact that california housing code requires that a renter not be touched in any way for 180 days following the issuance of a city code violation that wasn’t the fault of the renter. Ah well…

  46. Abusiveelusive says:

    Hey, thanks for the comments everyone. This is Keith here.

    See, the thing with the walkthrough is… when I paid my lease break fee, I made it clear I wanted to be there for it. I was assured there would be a phone call to schedule. But I never received one. And it was too late, I get screwed with these charges.

    I WANTED to be there for the walkthrough but had no chance to be. :

  47. wikkit says:


    I had this issue in PA 3 years ago. Of a $1400 security deposit, the landlord had deducted $600 for trivial cleaning issues.

    In my findings:
    -the max the landlord could charge for clean-up was $8/hr (so 5min to remove trash wouldn’t fly)
    -the landlord had skirted mandatory escrow rules for holding of the security deposit (not necessarily applicable, but leverage is always nice)
    -normal wear and tear doesn’t count, if taken before the local magistrate, the landlord would have to explain why the ‘damages’ were above and beyond normal wear and tear

    In the end I was actually able to read the pertinent sections of the law to the landlord verbatim, it was vindicating, and financially worthwhile.

  48. faust1200 says:

    @LAGirl: That is a pretty broad generalization. This has been the been the crux of my father’s business for over 35 years. He is quite successful despite the sagging economy around here. We don’t screw people to get a few extra dollars from them. We understand word-of-mouth is the most powerful brand of advertising. We have tenants that move out and then move back a few years later for various reasons. I infer you live in LA?? I don’t know how it is out there but around here most of the big management companies play fair. We certainly do. In fact, many times we “eat it” just to satisfy the customer even if they are wrong. I’ll assume you didn’t mean to call me and my family “bottom-feeding scum” ;) Property management isn’t much different from any other business where you will have nice guys, jerks and some in between.

  49. Pfluffy says:

    I’m a landlord. I’d rather be shot in the face than be a landlord because tenants do not read the lease or consult the lease if problems arise. And inevitably, I run across someone who fills the dishwasher full of dishwashing liquid despite verbal and written instructions and warnings not to do so.

    I have had such trouble with some tenants, that I have actually began conspiculously video taping myself reading and explaing each clause of the lease to the potential tenant. I do a walk through with the tenant and my video camera before the tenant signs the lease. I make sure I tape tenant and myself discussing any pre-existing problems and explain in great detail the condition in which the tenant must the place.

    I video tape the tenant and myself reviewing every clause of the lease so there can be no misunderstanding in what we expect from each other.

    I also video tape the final walk through and document any damages or items the tenant is responsible for cleaning or replacing. I make demand of the tenant to correct the problems (less normal wear and tear). If the tenant refuses to make any repair, I withhold the only the amount of the security deposit to cover my expenses to restore or repair.

    When the damages exceed the security deposit, I sue for damages. If the damages are far beyond reasonable wear and tear, I not only sue in civil court, but I also have the tenant criminally charged for simple damage to property. I have all the evidence documented.

    No, most people would not like to have me as a landlord, but after having the most irresponsible nightmare tenant, I do not find renting my property worth the trouble and expense despite the best screening measures allowed by the Fair Housing Act. Bottom line, it’s MY permanent property and their temporary home. I respect all the tenants’ rights afforded to them by law which are written into the lease. All the tenant has to do is follow the terms of the lease, and there is no problem. If my renters commit to being good tenants, I’m a way cool landlord and will cut serious slack when I’m notified in advance of problems the tenants may have for late payments. If all they want to do is use the place for their illegal drug ring, Saturday night fights, and a parking area for their junked cars, I become their nightmare.

    I hate to be the bad guy, but I won’t be victimized either.

  50. anexkahn says:

    one thing I do is whenever i move in, i take pictures of everything and then mail myself a copy of them. I keep it sealed signed and dated with the postmark proving the date of the pictures. This way if it is ever in question when the photos were taken I have a sealed copy that can be shown when they originated.

    Similar to having the landlord counter sign, but without the hastle and getting the landlord to agree to sign them.

  51. agahnim says:

    I don’t know how things work in VA, but I doubt they could charge for wear and tear like that. My roommates and I did a pretty good job cleaning up (nearly took a whole damn day), but the carpet was, well, how light beige carpet looks after a year of use. I’d heard stories like the poster’s, and was even more worried because we lagged a week or two in getting the keys back, but we ended up getting our full deposit back. It wouldn’t surprise me that the property managers who pull the nickle and diming do it knowing that they aren’t supposed to, but are still banking on the fact that many people don’t even bother to read their lease or complain.

    Some of the comments seem to point that VA is similar to CA as far as wear and tear goes, so at least ask “hey what’s up with these charges”? I probably wouldn’t bother with courts over a $100, but raising your voice can often do more than you think.

    I don’t know how the rental market in VA is, but that tiny deposit seems like a sign of scummyness. My girlfriend’s former apartment (in the massive Parkmerced complex in SF…I wouldn’t be surprised if it were the largest rental property in the US…) charged them $100 for a deposit, and I remember distinctly feeling the scum. I think it’s the same as the nickle and dime charges: they know people are a lot less likely to go to court over $100 than $1000. It’s easy bucks, especially when they’re making a killing on your rent a super old, barely maintained building.

    Housing seems to be one of those things were smaller scale is better. Not that I have much experience with renting, but I think there’s a sense of trust you get in knowing your landlord a little more personally; that is, you know they aren’t going to pull this kind of crap because they can’t afford to constantly turn people over, and, in return, you’re more willing to treat their property with respect.

  52. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    Next time do a walkthrough of the apartment WITH THE LANDLORD and insist that he pay you back the deposit on the spot, and that if he does not, you’ll withhold the key. That’s what my mom did….and the nasty landlord from NY actually gave her the full amount back, on the spot.

    Or you can bill them back.

  53. MickeyMoo says:

    Hey LAGirl – your comment would have been a lot less offensive if you’d said “>some

    My immigrant parents rented out a house to suplement my dad’s min wage+tips waiter job (the economics of living in San Francisco were vastly different in the 1960’s) and we had tenants who left piles (like literally 4-5 LARGE trashbags) of cockroach infested junk in the middle of each room. One tenant moved out of state and left her 16 year old son living there while still sending rent checks (he and his buddies TRASHED the place – ripped out walls – spray painted graffiti on the floors) One woman who lost her job a few months after moving in asked if she could slide on her rent for a few weeks – my dad let it go for 3 months before she filed for bankruptcy (in the meanwhile, my folks bought food for her and gave her kids Christmas presents) After we saw her drive away from the bankruptcy proceeding in a brand new car (sticker still on the window) we did a little research and found that she’d bought a home just before filing.

    So based on our experience I could say that all tenants are low life scumbags that don’t give a crap about places they don’t own, but I won’t because that would be an overgeneralization. Life cuts both ways – try and remember that.

    (and PS to Christine, wherever you are: Karma will catch up with you you lying lowlife thief)

  54. tadiera says:

    Reading through this has been really helpful. I’m still paying off the last place I was at because I DIDN’T do a walkthrough after. And they charged me for repainting, for carpet cleaning, mopping, and on and on and on. Basically every bit of cleaning a person could do- they charged me for.

    My current landlord hadn’t been able to finish cleaning up the house before I moved in. He took a bit off of my deposit to make up for it. :D

    I think, however, when I move again- I’m gonna take photos going in and then sit down with them and find out what exactly they charge for, cleaning-wise, when you leave.

  55. tedyc03 says:

    I don’t know if refusing to return the key is such a good idea since that legally means you still retain the property, and thus would have to pay rent. So do that carefully.

    Remember that small claims courts are built to handle disputes over a few hundred dollars. That’s what they’re there for. IANAL but here is my suggestion to anyone that is having a problem:

    1. Photograph the apartment before you leave. Do a walkthrough with your manager AND A WITNESS. Make sure to photograph any actual damage…real or pretend.
    2. Review the law in your state concerning deposit return, chargable damages, and timelines. Be sure that you know the rules.
    3. If you do not get the deposit returned that you believe you are owed, send a letter via certified mail. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Many states require that you ASK for the money before suing. Be sure to keep a copy AND keep the proof of mailing (and return reciept).
    4. If the certified mailing does not do the trick, file a small claims case (or a case in the proper court with jurisdiction over landlord-tenant issues).

    IMPORTANT: many times your filing fee and other court expenses are recoverable when you file your small claims case. Be sure to specify in your letter to the landlord that if you have to take your case to court, you will seek court costs; this will help you win them back.

    Pictures, knowledge of the law, a good witness, and the threat of a lawsuit is probably all you’ll need to get your money. But people on here who say “oh, suing isn’t worth it” forget that if they actually win, they’ll get the filing fee, process fee, etc. back from the landlord.

    Never let anyone walk over your rights. Rights not fought for aren’t rights at all.

  56. routhic says:

    The following advice applies to California (I’m not sure about Virginia and other states):

    One great aspect of a “final walkthrough” taken a few days before move-out with the landlord or his/her agent is that any damages not mentioned to you cannot be charged on your final deposit return.

    For example, let’s say that your carpet has stains, but the landlord doesn’t mention it? Well, you’ve had no opportunity to correct the problem to the landlord’s liking, so it cannot be charged. Even if you were responsible.

    The exception to this rule is if (a) you messed something up between the walkthrough and the time you leave your keys there, or (b) you had a piece of furniture conveniently covering the damage or otherwise prevented the landlord from seeing it.

    As others have said, and although it’s too late for the original poster – having witnesses and pictures at the final walkthrough is vital.

  57. cashmerewhore says:

    Ask them for photos. I worked as a leasing agent at a crappy apt complex for 7 months. They have to take photos of all “damages” and “uncleaned” areas to document the charges they are imposing. Also look into tenants rights in your state, because where I live, if they didn’t get you that itemized statement within 30 days of moving out they can not bill you for any cleaning expenses (I used this to get my full $400 deposit back after moving out of a complex I loved, though management was rather slow).

  58. andrew99 says:

    The boxes did you in.

    It’s very likely you would have been in the clear with the sink needing some wipe down or some sweeping, but once they saw the boxes needed moving they committed to charging you.

    I worked as a building manager at a University so I am familiar with the mindset.

    Once you walk into that room and see boxes left, you have committed to charging them. And now making them use a more critical eye with the rest of the place.

    Whether it’s a car, apartment, or home repair rental equipment, make sure there is absolutely nothing left to be done.

    I know it seems unfair, but a 95% clean bathroom doesn’t help much if they have to come in and clean that 5% before the next tenant. And you can believe they will charge you.