Landlord Tries To Use Leap Day To Screw Tenants Out Of Deposit

While most of us are sporting yellow and blue and leaving tributes to Leap Day William, one Milwaukee landlord is trying to spoil everyone’s fun by not only using the calendar blip to push a tenant out early, but to screw him out of his damage deposit.

Consumerist reader Lana writes in with this tale of her boyfriend and his roommate:

The two of them are moving into a new apartment as of March 1st. Last night (Feb. 28th) at around 9pm, while finishing up cleaning their old apartment and collecting the last of their items, their apartment manager came in with two guys that he told them were the new tenants and needed to move in right away.

He threatened that because they hadn’t finished cleaning yet, they wouldn’t be getting their security deposit back, and told them that the Leap Day didn’t count and their lease was over as of the 28th, (their lease states an end date of March 1st).

He also told them that he had gone into the apartment earlier that day and thrown away several items from the apartment, including a lamp and a carpet cleaner, as well as several bags of trash that were left (there was zero trash — we left the apartment spotless the day before and only had to clean out the fridge and collect the misc. items).

He said they needed to leave their keys in the refrigerator and lock the door and that he would finish the cleaning himself (again, we left the place virtually spotless).

Even if their lease didn’t extend to the leap day (which I believe it legally should), it was only 9pm on the 28th.

Lana says they have contacted the city’s tenant assistance hotline but have yet to hear back. We suggest they contact the Milwaukee District Attorney’s office which has a Consumer Fraud division. They can also file a complaint in small claims court to get back the security deposit.


Edit Your Comment

  1. MutantMonkey says:

    Small claims court. Not much else can be said other than the landlord is a d-bag.

    • longfeltwant says:

      If the details as presented are true, then this is a slam-dunk case against the landlord. It will be so easy to win, plus damages, that I would demand all that I could from the landlord, stopping juuuuuuust shy of extortion.

      PS Tip for all renters: when you move out, take pictures of the clean apartment. Get close-ups. Usually you won’t need them, but eventually, some time, you will. “Oh? you say I left garbage in the place? Well here’s a picture saying I didn’t.” If your landlord is a particularly big douche, then go buy a newspaper and put it in some of the pictures, to prove they were taken on (or after, but not before) that day.

      • dadelus says:

        To which the landlord then replies.

        “See, look at the newspapers these people left lying around everywhere! Do you think those just cleaned themselves up?”


      • the Persistent Sound of Sensationalism says:

        In Wisconsin, rental laws are strongly on the side of tenants for just this reason. If the landlord is found at fault (and he most certainly will be), the tenants are entitled to up to 3 times the security deposit.

      • Misha says:

        Unless you’re Gary Hobson!

      • 2 Replies says:

        Or don’t even use the newspaper, (because the landlord could argue that it was THAT newspaper that was left, and you’d be providing photo evidence that kinda supports the claim).

        What should be done would be to take high res pictures and print them out and immediately mail multiple copies to yourself. Post office postage stamps are a government seal to confirm a date, that have been used in court cases in the past to prove a document was in the hands of a particular individual before a particular date (I believe it was a case against a game show, where they were staging wins by giving contestants answers ahead of time).

        Or even take a video of your personal walk-through and post it to youtube, or mail the memory card itself.
        Hell, your video could even be of the detailed walk-through, continuing out the door, locking it, and to the office to drop off the keys, proving that it was immaculate IMMEDIATELY before the keys were returned.

    • longdvsn says:

      I also would have called the police if the landlord had entered the apartment and thrown out a lamp and a carpet cleaner without permission.

      But yes, depending on local ordinances and tenant’s rights in that area (and assuming the OP is accurately depicting the events taking place) – looks like an easy case in small claims court to get the security deposit back and more.

      • Charmander says:

        I would have called the police not only for the missing items, but when the landlord demanded the apartment be vacated so the new tenants could move in that night. No. It was still Feb. 28!! Even if the landlord is not counting the leap year, he has no right to the apartment at the earliest until midnight the next day.

        I don’t actually believe the landlord would have the right to have the apartment vacated until the end of the last day of the month you are moving out, which would be February 29th at midnight. Depending on what your lease said, of course – it could actually be March 1st.

        But February 28th? Um, no.

    • eldergias says:

      Unfortunately, I don’t trust small claims court much. I took a landlord to small claims for taking money from my security deposit for fraudulent charges and violating state landlord laws. I had photographic evidence for my claims, written proof of my claims in a letter from the landlord, and even got the landlord to admit their fault in court in front of the judge. The judge ruled in my favor, but only awarded me $50 of the $3500 that I was legally entitled to. Small claims court allows no appeal, so the judges don’t have to worry about being scrutinized. Next time I am going to regular court.

    • DFManno says:

      In Pennsylvania small claims court is not an option. There’s a special landlord-tenant court. With the laws recently “reformed,” the court is nothing but an eviction mill.

  2. kingofmars says:

    Also make sure you get intrest on your security deposit. Landlords are required to give intrest on that deposit.

    • imasqre says:

      Interest on security is not standard on every lease.

      • kelcema says:

        It’s dependent on the terms of the lease. Most blank standard Residential Rental Agreements have an option box to select one or the other… I don’t think I have seen any that I’ve been a party to that did not give the interest to the landlord, of course. :-p

        • Derigiberble says:

          You can’t override tenant laws with a term in the lease. The whole point of those laws is to prevent landlords from writing in abusive terms. If the laws say you have to pay interest then you have to pay interest, period. However, with interest rates so incredibly low right now it really isn’t worth fighting over what amounts to likely a dollar a year or so.

          • kelcema says:

            Yes, true, I do understand that. In Washington (where I live) the law allows for the choice to be made in the lease. It does not require it one way or the other.

            Sorry for being so closed-location-minded. :D

      • ARP says:

        Depends on local ordinance. In Chicago if you have more than 4(?) units, you have to pay interest.

        • badachie says:

          Wisconsin does not require interest on security deposits, and unfortunately, Wisconsin statue does not allow for local municipalities to enact or enforce local ordinances related to rental housing.

    • castlecraver says:

      Depends on your local tenancy laws. Some places yes, but some places no.

    • thesalad says:

      Check your local laws.. some places require it others, don’t as you can charge the interest as “account administration” fees depending on the amount of interest etc.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Cause we all know how much interest you can get on a savings account these days.

      • Billy says:

        In chicago, if you don’t pay interest on the deposit, your renter is allowed to recover twice the amount of the deposit.

        In other words, if the landlord fails to pay the dollar or so of interest at the right time, the tenant can be rewarded thousands.

    • Yomiko says:

      In NH, the landlord only has to pay interest if the deposit was held for over 12 months. I think this is something that varies by state.

  3. NightSteel says:

    Seems like a pretty cut and dry case for Small Claims, yeah.

  4. az123 says:

    Take photos of the apartment before handing over the keys…. can even use todays newspaper as well… just something that you can use as evidencs

    • crispyduck13 says:

      I always did this every single time I moved from rental to rental. Take pics before you move your crap in and after you move it out. I hope they did because this landlord sounds like a grade A jackass.

    • Razor512 says:

      video is more plausible in this case since photos can easily be edited but is is very difficult to edit video in a way that will fake the date.

      • az123 says:

        I doubt a small claims judge is going to assume you are faking pictures of the condition of a rental apartment relative to cleaning… We are not attempting to cover up an assassination plot here

  5. AllanG54 says:

    Landlord was wrong….if lease said they were good to March 1 they should have called the cops right away for an illegal eviction. They would have put a stop to that madness. Then I would sue for the landlord throwing stuff of theirs away.

  6. Invader Zim says:

    The landlord sounds experienced at ripping tenants off.

  7. Blueskylaw says:

    How to Prorate Apartment Rent
    By Ron Leshnower, Guide

    3. If your first partial month happens to be February during a leap year, remember that it has 29, instead of 28, days.

  8. gttim says:

    Pictures of the clean apartment? Always take pictures as you walk out the door for the last time! Then you have proof of how you left it!

    • bendee says:

      I usually do pictures as well as a video, including the typical ‘here’s today’s newspaper as proof’ so the landlord can’t claim the footage was taken before move in rather than after move out.

    • imasqre says:

      I agree. I usually take pictures when I move in, and then when I am completely moved out.

    • dg says:

      Actually, no you don’t. Any information – including dates, and GPS stamps can be faked on a photo. What is best to do is to make a video tape of yourself walking into the property from outside – keep the camera on the whole time, try to get date and time down to the second on the video. Enter the unit. Video tape everything – all rooms, all ceilings. All lights on/off. Drains working. Faucets working. Toilets, sinks, appliances, carpet, windows, blinds/shades, doors, locks, door knobs, door frames, etc. Store that tape someplace. Then when you move out, APPEND to the end of the tape by doing the same thing get everything again. Mail the tape to yourself certified mail, return receipt requested. When you get it, keep it in the envelope – sealed.

      If you have to go to Court, bring your video evidence in the sealed envelope, bring your camera and some spare batteries. Bring the return receipt. Let the Judge open the envelope, and play the tape. It’ll likely be accepted into evidence.

      If you don’t have tapes – then download the video, burn onto a DVD and do the certified mail thing for the move-in video, and the move-out video’s – both separate. Do the same thing with the Judge… bring a PC to play the videos on.

  9. Sham03 says:

    Sounds like the landlord violated several Landlord-Tenant laws, such as being required to provide 48 hours advanced notice before entering the apartment (unless there is a mutual agreement otherwise). Hope this works out for the renters.

    • Tim says:

      Very few states have landlord-tenant laws beyond “must have a toilet,” basically. Usually your own defense is your lease.

      And in this case, the lease ended March 1, so they’re in good shape.

      • badachie says:

        WI has very clear administrative codes enforced by the Dept. of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. However, there is a bill floating through the legislature that would take the teeth out of some of these codes. For example, not being able to sue for double damages if your security deposit is withheld illegally.

      • lostdisk says:

        The state of WI has some rather good ones… and the landlord is suppose to provide the renter with a copy of these at the time the lease is signed. Several of the WI Landlord-Tennent laws even focus on security deposits and move in/out.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Besides which, if the lease had expired, the landlord probably had a right to enter.

    • Yomiko says:

      I had a landlady who was fond of short notice visits, so I trawled through my state’s tenancy laws. I could not find any specific time requirement for notice of entry, just a requirement that the landlord provide “reasonable notice” and that if the tenant refused entry, the landlord must wait 24 hours before entering (unless it’s an emergency).

  10. Billy says:

    Contact an attorney that deals with landlord tenant law, not the DA’s office or the city’s tenant assistance hotline.

    • badachie says:

      Good luck getting someone not involved in a non-profit to take the case. WI recently amended state law that says attorneys’ fees awarded can be no larger than three times the amount of the money awarded.

      • Billy says:

        If their security deposit is substantial, three times that amount will be more than worth it.

      • Snowblind says:

        It is not just keeping the deposit, it is an unlawful eviction, or a Self-Help eviction:

        n Michigan, evictions must be handled in court. Unfortunately, one type of illegal eviction that still happens despite the law setting out all the above steps, is the self-help eviction. The landlord puts the tenants out of the property without going to court at all, or before completing all the steps through the Writ of Restitution. Included in these illegal, self-help evictions are situations where the landlord turns off the utilities while the tenant is still in the apartment, changes the locks, nails shut doors or windows or threatens the tenant into moving without a day in court.

        Under Michigan law, a tenant can receive damages if the landlord uses any of these self-help remedies in place of a court eviction. Damages are $200 or actual damages, whichever is greater. If the tenant can prove intentional violations or flagrant abuse by the landlord, the judge can order the landlord to pay up to three times actual damages.
        Using force or threatening to use force.

        XXX Removing, withholding or destroying personal property of the tenant.

        Changing, altering or adding locks or security devices to the rental premises.

        Boarding up the premises which prevents or makes entry difficult.

        Removing doors, windows or locks.

        Causing the shut-off or interruption of water, electric or gas service.

        Causing loud noises, a bad odor or other nuisance.

        Putting the tenant’s belongings out in the street.

        If a tenant is forcibly removed from or kept out of rental property by force, the tenant may sue the landlord. If the tenant prevails, the tenant is entitled to recover three times the amount of damages or $200.00, whichever is greater. Damage to the tenant can include the cost of staying at a motel, as well as actual physical damage to the tenant or his belongings.

  11. Cat says:

    Leap day counts, douchebag. Legally, they didn’t have to be out until midnight on the 29th.

  12. Tim says:

    Seems pretty cut and dry. Lease ends March 1, landlord kicks you out Feb. 28.

    Unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to get anything in damages other than your security deposit (if the landlord does in fact withhold it) and 1/29th of your monthly rent.

    • RandomHookup says:

      But not many leases end on the 1st day of the month. Is it possible that the tenant made a mistake and assumed the lease ended tomorrow, when it was written as Feb. 28th? Of course, if on a month-to-month, today is the last day of the lease (in most cases).

  13. Guppy06 says:

    The extra day is actually inserted between February 23 and February 24. Today is “the day prior the calends of March” regardless.

    • Phil Villakeepinitrreal says:

      Er, no. That is only true in the old Gregorian calendar. In the modern version, the leap day is the 29th.

  14. Alan says:

    Did anybody else have to google Leap Day William to see if there was any type of history there or just a pure 30 rock reference?

  15. castlecraver says:

    So why did they leave? Should’ve refused to leave, and if the landlord called the cops just produce the lease to prove they had a right to occupy. I don’t know of any circumstances where a landlord is allowed to forcibly remove a tenant from property that they’re lawfully occupying, at least without a court/police order.

  16. callenjr says:

    Didn’t you hide your Rolex in that lamp the landlord threw out?

    • LMA says:

      Yes, yes I did. And the lamp was stamped “Tiffany & Co.” on the lead at the bottom of the shade and also on the base. It also had three original Edison bulbs screwed into it.

  17. May contain snark says:

    Why would the landlord demand that they put their keys in the fridge? Seems like an odd request.

  18. Bionic Data Drop says:

    The relationship between landlords and tenants is a contest to see who screws who first. I lived in an apartment 2 years and was robbed out of my deposit. They mandated that every tenant moving out pay for the expense of professional carpet cleaning and painting, which is against state law as long as there is only normal wear and tear.

    After that, I moved into a condo. I left after 2 years, had it the carpets professionally cleaned and hired housekeepers to clean every nook and cranny. The place looked exactly like it did the day we moved in. He still took half of my deposit (which was $500) for a few very small, trivial things. The half that he did refund me barely covered my cost of the cleaners. The cost to repair those things that were “wrong” would’ve been under $20 and since I know the new tenant, I found out he didn’t fix anything anyway. I learned a priceless lesson though.

    The next 2 places I lived in, I just considered the security deposit a fee and didn’t clean one bit and left any of my stuff there that I didn’t want. I figured if they want my deposit, they can earn it. I wished them luck in proving in court that their cost of cleaning and any damage they found exceeded the cost of my deposit.

    My friend’s experiences are eerily similar about landlords screwing them over. I almost felt bad for doing what I did, but as a lot of renters will find out, it’s screw or be screwed.

    • donjumpsuit says:

      I agree man. Any “rental agency” is out to take your money. I cleaned my house spotless last time, and they paid $120 for a maid to come in and clean after I left the place spotless (mind you they replaced the carpets when I left, not as a consequence of my actions) which means only the kitchen and bathrooms were under question. However, the reason they got the maid they stated was that there was “Dirt in the window sills”.
      Typically owners of homes are a bit more leanient (not always) but when it comes to a rental agency, I tell them straight up, I will not be cleaning, so let’s negotiate a firm price for a maid service to come in and clean the place when I move. Then it’s in writing, and that’s usually what they try to charge for. Then like you said, leave the place trashed.

    • mistersmith says:

      redacted, what is wrong with you? You were being robbed and taken advantage of, so your response was to lay back and take it? And rather than protecting or fighting for yourself in the future, you just expect it to happen more?

      You’re weak. And weak renters like you make it worse for all other renters, because it allows bad landlords to get away with this kind of nonsense — so they can try it again.

    • weshigh says:

      I’ve lived in 6 different apartments with 5 different landlords/companies. I’ve always received my full deposits back for almost all of them. I’ve had $100 or so taken out of one for additional cleaning. So it doesn’t always have to be that way.

    • psm321 says:

      Not all landlords are that way. I lived in an apartment complex for 2 school years (in fact the only one I’ve lived in) where the management was very fair and responsive. Got my entire security deposit back without any hassle both times (once they even told me to just leave trash behind and they took care of it). There was even a carpet cleaning fee in the lease that I wanted to cross out, but the manager asked me not to because she was worried about her bosses being mad about changes. She told me they never charged it anyway (and I knew that was true). I went ahead and trusted her and didn’t cross it out (knowing I was taking a risk) since this was the second year and I already knew they were good about that stuff. At the end of the lease, no cleaning fee even though they could’ve screwed me and charged it since the lease said they could.

      • dg says:

        Cross out whatever you don’t want to agree to. Initial it. If they don’t agree, they don’t have to countersign the lease and there’s no contract. But saying “Oh pleaze don’t change things… my boss will get mad” is a bunch of BS. I’ve handled literally thousands of contracts – I read everything, anything I don’t agree to gets crossed out. If the other side balks, I either get additional consideration for changing my mind and agreeing to keep something in, or if I don’t want to assume the risk, I walk. They get one chance – I have the money they want, they can do it my way or continue advertising.

    • Greggen says:

      The total costs the landlord can bill you can be more than your damage deposit.. You risk being charged big bucks by forcing landlord to remove your crap.. Storage fees, disposal fees. Just because your damage deposit is $250, they can and have billed $1500 or more

  19. Foot_Note says:

    thats not a landlord, but a slumlord… “how to screw the tenants anyway we can!”

  20. 132_and_bush says:

    I hope they took the time to take photographs and video of the apartment in case he claims that he had to clean it and screw them over. Good luck.

  21. kelcema says:

    (Disclaimer: I live in Washington State, which is covered by RCW 59.18)

    I just moved into a new place at the beginning of this month. My previous landlord still hasn’t returned my security deposit. After — well, 24 days or so, I emailed him to ask about it. *Suddenly* there was a $179.00 carpet cleaning bill. I responded and told him that since, per RCW 59.18.280 or whatever, he failed to return my deposit with the specified time frame (14 days) he could no longer withhold any amount from my deposit, and requested the entire sum be returned forthwith. He said the check is in the mail now… (For the record, the carpets were super clean when I left!)

    This new place… the landlord’s agent has already screwed a couple things over, but my roommates all hate him anyways, so I don’t feel bad about holding his feet to the fire either. He did try to convince me that “the lease isn’t valid until I pay the security deposit” even though, well, that’s just wrong. I don’t think he understood how his signing the lease was also acting as a receipt for that security deposit… Oh well.

  22. MECmouse says:

    Apartments around my part (DFW) rarely return deposits anymore. It’s more like a cleaning fee they collect to do minor repairs/upgrades when you leave. However, unless you get a pet and put down a deposit for it, the initial “deposit” isn’t that much (sometimes less than $100).

    When it comes down to the bottom line, it’s contract law — very cut and dried depending on what their lease said.

    • badachie says:

      And what state law (and administrative code in WI) says. There are, unfortunately, bad landlords, especially in Milwaukee, who will put things into a lease that violate state law. These illegal lease provisions, currently, will void the entire lease.

    • The Lone Gunman says:

      Texas is a notoriously landlord-friendly state, thanks to the lobbyists of the Texas Apartment Association.

      Every apartment I ever had in TX used the TAA boilerplate lease as a result.

  23. Ms. C says:

    Small claims court is the absolute best place to settle landlord-tenant disputes. This tenant should be very sure to follow the law though. I’m not familiar Wisconsin state law but most states (and leases) provide the landlord with 30 days to return the deposit or to provide a line-item list of deductions therefrom. After that thirty days, Lena should file in small claims and (if Wisconsin is anything like most states) stands to get treble damages — i.e., triple the value of the deposit back.

    • kelcema says:

      Washington allows for 14 days, or “he or she shall be liable to the tenant for the full amount of the deposit. ” What I don’t know is whether or not the “liable fur the full amount” is the deposit, or an amount in addition to the deposit paid. So, if you fail to meet the time frame, do you pay DEPOSIT AMOUNT or DEPOSIT AMOUNT X2?

  24. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    I’m so glad the last landlord I had was a very good person, not one of the slumlords always making the news. We have remained friends for the 15 years since. He was very frugal, but fair, honest and hard working.

  25. Lucky225 says:

    I’ve had this argument several times, the Landlord is wrong.

    6803. “Year” means a period of 365 days; “half year,” 182 days;
    “quarter of a year,” 91 days. The added day of a leap year, and the
    day immediately preceding, if they occur in any such period, shall be
    reckoned together as one day.

    Most States have similar statutes governing contract law.

  26. SoTEX says:

    a simple call to the sherriff would have ground that ass hat’s illegal actions to a screeching halt in every state in the union.

  27. ancientone567 says:

    It is real easy to make this right. Go to the hardware store and buy some 2 ton epoxy glue and a hammer. Also get some blank keys from a car dealership for the make of the landlords car. Mix the epoxy and put it all over the blank keys and insert them into every door lock and trunk lock. then wait 2 minutes to dry and whack off the key tops lol. Bam! the landlord has to redo all the car door locks. Now that costs a bloody fortune. Karma is a bitch ain’t it?

  28. Goodanuff says:

    Take him on Judge Judy and let her embarrass the hell out of the scumlord.

  29. physics2010 says:

    Always take pictures of how you left the apartment, otherwise it’s your word vs their word or their pictures.