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throwaway1001110

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Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #1 
Hi guys,

So I'm hoping to get some help with my security deposit. I am in California, btw.

I moved in to share a 1 bedroom apartment with a lady, security deposit was $1000 - a bit steep but I was desperate to find a place ASAP. I moved in March 12, 2012.

I was added to the lease, and all was well for a while. Fast-forward to today. My landlady (would she be considered such as I was paying her rent, and not the apartment complex? The security deposit was also made in her name) had asked me when I was moving out (I had given her notice I was not renewing the lease with her on February 26 - I spoke to the leasing office and they said our lease expired April 15th) - I told her I'd move out April 15th. 

However, she found someone to rent the livingroom to (where I was staying). She asked me to move out before March 31, and I wouldn't owe rent for April. I said sure since I figured paying the full rent for April wasn't worth it if I wasn't going to be there for the whole month - she also said that she had gotten the security deposit from the other person who was going to be living there. 

I moved out March 30, 2013 and into my new place the same day. Prior to moving out, she talked about doing a walk-through, and getting someone from management to get an estimate on damages/any cleaning that needed to be done. However, she later changed her mind because she had decided not to move out (she had initially wanted to because she was considering not renewing the lease/moving out). We didn't do a walk-though, she specifically stated it wasn't necessary to set it up with someone from management - that she would estimate any damages herself and that I should be getting at least $500 back? Prior to moving in but AFTER I had given her a security deposit, she pulled out a roommate contract - separate from the apartment's lease. It stated that I'd only get $500 back if I stayed on the lease for a year, and nothing back if I signed the lease for another year (a bit dodgy but I'm pretty sure this is not valid - especially since the leasing office said that whatever security deposit I paid was to HER, not the apartment complex). 

I took photos of the unit anyway, in case she wanted to bring up any damages. It has been 21 days since I moved out (as of 4/20/2013), she didn't send my security deposit/a letter or even a text/email with an itemized deduction - or good faith estimated deductions, all she said was that she didn't know when I'd be getting my security deposit back. She claims to be out of town/waiting to get an estimate from the management - but that won't happen until she gets back/she keeps telling me that she'll give me a call once she's back. Am I entitled to my full deposit? She is claiming that the carpet needs to be replaced, and that she needs an estimate for painting for the walls from the manager - the walls were already painting by her before I moved in. There is normal wear and tear (scuff marks) but I had no holes to fill in - I left the walls as they were.

My questions are: Is she technically my landlord since I was paying her rent, that she in turn paid to the apartment complex?
We were co-tenants, both on the lease. She has already renewed the lease, only under her name. Can she still withhold my deposit until whenever she gets back? I spoke to the leasing office today and they're pretty set on not getting involved but my old roommate is now stalling/stating she is still out of town.

MikeTfromCA

Registered:
Posts: 125
Reply with quote  #2 
There are many things wrong here.  So I'll try to be brief in my response.  First of all, it's illegal in CA for a rental agreement to state that a security deposit is non-refundable.  That means that the lease she made with you contained illegal language (you getting nothing back if you stayed for more than 2 years).  Second, per CA law a landlord is required to refund the security deposit minus any deductions along with an itemized list explaining each deduction (based on what you wrote, I think you're aware of this, at least to some extent).  The '21 days' requirement is a big deal with CA courts and many landlords have lost their cases based upon non-compliance with it.  Since she failed to comply with that (refund/send an itemized list to you within 21 days, etc), per CA law she forfeits the right to keep any of it and you are entitled the full amount of the deposit.  However, that being said, it may be difficult for you to collect on that and you may need to file a claim against her in a small claims court.  She may have claims of damages against you that are in excess of normal wear and tear or if there's any unpaid rent that you owe her.  Based on what you've claimed below, it doesn't sounds like she's got much, if anything against you.  One last thing to consider, CA law allows the tenant (gives them the right) to request an initial move out inspection (for repairs etc).  Did you make this request? if not then there's not much you can do about that aspect.  Also, CA law prohibits a landlord from making an initial inspection unless the tenant requests it.   I suggest you read the CA landlord tenant law/guide (particularly the sections that pertain to the security deposit):  http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/landlordbook/catenant.pdf 

Also, it sounds like she was subletting the unit(room) to you.  Is that the case?  Does the rental agreement you had with the management company for the apartment as whole have a 'no-subletting' clause? 

Good Luck.
throwaway1001110

Registered:
Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #3 

Hi Mike,

Thanks for your reply. Again, my biggest concern regarding this whole situation if is she is by definition my 'landlord." We were both signed on the lease as co-tenants, she had gotten a form from the leasing office so she had made sure this was okay. She was the primary tenant. However, separate to the apartment's lease, her roommate agreement stated that I'd only be refunded $500 from the $1000, I'm not sure if this is minus any actual damages/cleaning fees. Before moving, she stated that I should be getting back "at least $500."

I have, since moving out, sent her about 4 text messages regarding this but she is claiming that I am "annoying" her, and that I need to wait until she gets back because she's "travelling." I don't think it's my problem that she is out of town? It appears that she is withholding my security deposit in bad faith/she hasn't given me an itemized deduction, but is she really my landlord and does civil code section 1950.5 apply to her since rent/security deposit was made in her name? She had given me her bank account number where I direct deposited my share of the rent each month.

These are some of the exchanges we've made: I asked when I'll be getting my security deposit back 2 days ago, she said, "I don't know the manager needs to give me an estimate about the damage on the carpet and wall painting I'll let you know when I'm back then I'll call you. At my terms I'll give it depending on what they say. Right now I'm waiting to know what it will cost me to replace the carpet as they said it has some stains in several spots that they can't remove only by cleaning it looks like spilled glue."

I replied yesterday, saying that she refused a walk-through, and that she had changed her mind about getting someone from the management to come make an estimate in regards to damage that we were supposed to do together. Her reply, and she seems pretty pissed off:

"I have no idea why you wrote this message. An estimate is what I'm waiting for. Read my message again, you didn't understand it. They will give me an estimate that's exactly what I need. Then I'll let you know. Stop annoying me with your nonsense messages and wait until I'm back in town. I told you I was travelling. I didn't refuse anything. You're being nuts. Just get on your senses and stop making assumptions."

Again, we have only discussed this 4 times, the first message (April 12) I had asked about getting my shower filter back, my boyfriend and I were going to get it the day I moved out but she didn't let us in saying that she was really busy and she will call me to get it, as well as to pick up any mail I received - this is when she told me she was out of town and working in New York. The second message was regarding the security deposit (April 16), she ignored this one. The third, which is the one she replied to was again asking about the security deposit (April 20), but all she said was that she didn't know. But apparently I am now annoying her after trying to discuss why she denied the walk-through and is making claims that the carpet needs to be replaced (sent yesterday, April 21)? I feel that I have a right to discuss this but she is being difficult, claiming that I need to wait until she gets back.

Can I send her a demand letter regarding the return of my security deposit? Should this be, on top of certified mail, emailed to her/notified in a text to ensure she gets it since she's "out of town"? Is she considered my landlord? Am I now entitled to my full deposit since she didn't return it in 21 days and she didn't give an estimate to the charges? Is her rental agreement stating that I'd only get $500 back legal (I highly doubt this is)?

MikeTfromCA

Registered:
Posts: 125
Reply with quote  #4 
She's considered your landlord (as opposed to being your roommate) if you're in contract with her by means of a lease/rental agreement in which she's subletting to you. That being said, all CA landlord/tenant laws apply to your case. She's clearly "stalling", probably because she's already spent your security deposit that you paid her. Bottom line, she was obligated to pay your deposit back minus any deductions and send you a list itemizing them within 21 days, but didn't. You're NOW entitled to the full amount of your deposit.
throwaway1001110

Registered:
Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #5 
Ok so she is finally back in town and sent me this text:

"The maintenance people came over and gave me an estimate. They won't be able to return my deposit. As they said that they cannot only clean the carpet they will have to replace it because the stains on your side. Those stains would only come out with a harsh chemical but at the same time it would bleach the carpet color which would be a much lighter one and would stand out from the rest of the living room area. It would cost me aprox $2000 for them to change the whole thing. They cannot change only those areas because it's one whole thing cut out and custom made. I'm sorry but I cannot return any of your security deposit as I'll use it to pay for your damages."

WTF?
MikeTfromCA

Registered:
Posts: 125
Reply with quote  #6 
Like I said before, it doesn't matter what the damages to the unit are at this point.  She failed to provide you with an itemized list of damages with a refund of your deposit minus those damages within 21 calendar days.  Per CA law (result of CA supreme court ruling), she's no longer entitled to withhold any of your deposit.  You have several options at this point, you could:

1)  Hire an attorney to write a her (threatening) letter that informs her that she was in violation of CA state law and that she's to refund your deposit in its entirely or be subject to a civil lawsuit by you in which if you prevail, then in addition to her having to pay back your deposit in its entirely, she would also be liable for any court costs, etc that you incurred as a result of having to settle in small claims.

2)  Skip that step and proceed directly to filing a lawsuit against her that would be settled in small claims.  Also keep in mind that that there is a chance that she could prevail in your suit against her.  For this reason, I suggest you contact a civil litigation attorney to see what the possible outcomes could be if she was to prevail against you.  This will help you determine if taking this step would be worthwhile or too much of a risk for you to bother with.

3)  Write her a letter (yourself) and cite and include the provisions of the CA law that I mentioned that she was in violation of and advise that that failure to comply and pay you the full amount will result on you proceeding with item 2 above and see if that's enough to get her to remit your deposit.

You really should (but don't have to) try to do option #3 first.  Going with option #1, though likely the most effective option, would only be necessary if you think she'll put up a big enough wall against you. It will also cost you money for them to write the letter.

Finally, if you haven't done so already, I highly suggest that you read the sections that pertain to the security deposit from the CA Landlord Tenant law guide, particularly pages 62 (last paragraph) and 63.  Also it would be a good idea to get in contact with a civil litigation attorney and quickly explain your situation and get their bit of advice as well.  
throwaway1001110

Registered:
Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #7 
Hi Mike,

Thanks for your advice. I've asked her to give me receipts of the repairs made, and a copy of the estimates of the damages (since she didn't give an actual list, seems she's just pulling numbers and trying to intimidate me by saying it'll cost $2000), but at this point I think it'll be too late for her to provide it since she didn't in the beginning. I have contacted a small claims advisor, but I'm waiting to hear back from them. I gave them a brief explanation of my situation. I think this is different from a civil litigation attorney though. I'll look one up!
MikeTfromCA

Registered:
Posts: 125
Reply with quote  #8 
No problem.  A civil litigation attorney will only be able to offer you sound advice since they are true experts with the laws and procedures. They will not be able to represent you in a small claims court.  You will have to do that on your own.  They can prepare you and let you know what you can expect and help improve your chances for prevailing.
throwaway1001110

Registered:
Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #9 
So I asked her for an estimate. I have a RIGHT to this. Now she is calling me ungrateful, saying that I need to "learn a lesson" and is asking me for my current address to BILL ME the entire thing? This is extremely shady.

She said:

"First of all that's not a vendor estimate I don't have on paper. Second, what part you didn't understand on my text here? I should charge you for the whole thing but I'm not charging you. It is your fault they won't return my security deposit. I'm being generous as I've been the whole time with you. And you as always are being an ungrateful person. Just remember one thing I'm not obliged to give you back ANY of the deposit back, as our signed roommate agreement said: I'd keep the whole deposit if ANYTHING was damaged or stolen. YOU read it yourself. You asked me the agreement you read in front of me I gave you another copy because you lost your original. So if you want to act untrustful this way by the end of my lease I'll charge you for the whole carpet damage and all other little damages you cause, and all the things that were broken. I thought you'd be glad  I wasn't charging you more for all you've done, but you seem to be too selfish to realize things that you've done. You're a very ungrateful person and need to learn a lesson. I'll send you a bill for all of it. Please give me your new address."

I feel like it's time to get a lawyer -___- I'll definitely be writing her the demand letter. 
MikeTfromCA

Registered:
Posts: 125
Reply with quote  #10 
As I previously said, it's my guess that she's already spent your deposit (on who knows what) and therefore didn't have it on hand to give you anyway.  Assuming that she didn't spend all of your deposit and really did still have it on hand, then all she would've need to do was call up a carpet cleaning/repair/installation company to get a (free) estimate.  This could've literally been done within days (hours in some cases) of after you surrendered the premises.  Trust me when I say that as a landlord here in CA, it doesn't take more than 21 one days to assess the damage in a rental unit.  At least enough to determine whether the ex-tenant is going to get any or a portion of their deposit back.  

You're welcome to give her your forwarding address if you want.  Honestly, I don't see what good it's going to do her since she broke the law anyway.  When confronted with 'legal' situations like these, where I know I complied with the law to the letter, fulfilled and/or exceeded all of my legal/contractual obligations and have done absolutely nothing wrong, I always smile  and give them whatever information they request because I've got nothing to hide.  I never play the victim and I'm always open and honest with myself and others and if I ever was truly in the wrong on something, I would do my best to make it right as quickly and as pain-free as possible.

Either way, you should ask a legal expert first on what would be the best course of action to take for here on. 
Galaxie

Registered:
Posts: 51
Reply with quote  #11 
Did you not already provide her with your new address?  That's something you're supposed to provide when you move out.  She may (although I doubt it) have sent the list of itemized deductions to your last known address (her apartment), and kept it as proof of having mailed it within 21 days.  Again, I doubt she did that.

I'm a little unclear if she is technically your landlord, or the apartment company is.  I'd have to see a copy of all the rental agreements you signed to figure that out.  I would recommend taking a copy of all of your agreements to a lawyer to confirm what your options are at this point, and your likelihood of prevailing in a suit.  You can look up local legal services here: http://lawhelpca.org/issues/housing/landlord-and-tenant-issues

Also, keep all of the texts she has sent you, it may help with your case.
throwaway1001110

Registered:
Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #12 
Of course I gave her a copy of my current address. She is saying she doesn't have it. I wouldn't be surprised if she said that I never gave it to her, but I wrote it down for her in her notebook the day I moved out. She has the copy of the roommate agreement but it does have illegal language: She keeps ALL of the security deposit if there is damage? That's not legal. 

She claims that she's given me two copies. She never did. I asked her for a copy, she said it was irrelevant because I was moving out. However, then she said she'd "think about it." She showed me a copy of the agreement, but then took it back. It stated I'd get $500 back from the $1000.

"There is no such thing as a non-refundable deposit. Clauses in rental agreements deeming that a deposit is non-refundable are not valid."

What I really find unreasonable from her is that just because I asked for receipts once the work is done, and for a copy of the estimated damages that she's saying she got from the management, she is suddenly furious, saying that I'm ungrateful and that she'll bill me the whole thing - I will keep myself firm and professional by not retaliating with petty comments like she's making. 

I did speak to some friends about this issue, and they suggest that I contact the management directly. I am doubting that she really got an estimate about the damage - I think this is usually done when the last tenant vacates. I'll be calling the manager directly and hopefully get some information regarding this tomorrow - I had spoken to one of the girls that works there but they're both pretty close friends and she just told me that she couldn't give me information regarding this since I was no longer on the lease (even after I asked if a walk-through was done). One of my friends also let me know that it is illegal that she is subletting without the management's consent - she told me she was going to move someone in but that they wouldn't be on the lease. This is something he suggested reporting since she is trying to charge me to pay for the carpet replacement yet she didn't do a walk-through/provide an estimate/moved someone in immediately after I moved out. This might be hard to prove (since she said she'd just say that a "friend" would be staying with her for a few days if it was questioned), but I do have a text where she is asking me to move out sooner because she will be moving someone in:

"I need you to move out Saturday I got a temp roommate for 2 months and she can only move in on Saturday mid day otherwise she won't be able to move in she'll go to her second choice."

I contacted several lawyers but they disagree that she is considered my landlord. They do recommend I take this to small claims, but didn't provide much legal advice.
throwaway1001110

Registered:
Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #13 
So I finally got in touch with the complex manager, and he said that a walk-through isn't done until the last resident leaves. I'm confused as to why she's claiming that she'll be paying $2000 for carpet replacement if she hasn't even moved out yet/just renewed her lease for another year. I don't understand why she didn't want to do a walk-through with me, denied it when I brought it up, then goes on ahead and claims to be waiting for an estimate from management after I move out and claims that I won't be getting my security deposit back due to damages. Another thing is that she is subletting the living room where I was - so how can she hold me accountable for causing damage to the carpet if she 1) just renewed her lease 2) is subletting to someone new and they moved in on the same day I moved out (and they're not on the lease), and 3) she's accepted that the carpet needs to be replaced even though she's moved someone in/didn't do a walk-through with me?

She had stated: "I need you to move out Saturday I got a temp roommate for 2 months and she can only move in on Saturday mid day otherwise she won't be able to move in she'll go to her second choice."

And I moved out that Saturday - my landlady and boyfriend/his brother can attest to that. I asked when I could get my shower filter back (haven't gotten it back btw), but then I found out she was in NY/she was waiting for an estimate. Why would she still be waiting to get an estimate from management two weeks AFTER I've moved out and WHILE someone else has moved in? I don't understand why she didn't do this when I was still living there and why she waited so long (she gave me the estimate 4/26), and she's now threatening to bill me the $2000 simply because I asked for a copy of the estimate/receipts for the repairs. 

Should my next step be to write a demand letter? I'm just hoping to have a strong case if I have to take this to small claims. She did make a huge mistake by subletting - and admitting to it (temp roommate for 2 months). Are there any penalties for that? Would that text message be enough proof? The complex manager did tell me that subletting isn't allowed if the person isn't on the lease.  There was another instance where this had occurred - the girl was a commuter, but she didn't stay long. There's also the fact that one of the girls that was going to rent the living room changed her mind last minute, but didn't get her security deposit back, and my co-tenant made no attempt to give it back to her, even though the girl never moved her stuff in/I was still living there.
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