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ColumbusLL

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Posts: 3
Reply with quote  #1 
Good evening,

I am the owner of a duplex here in Columbus.  Tenants have moved out at the end of Feb and left the place trashed.  Now, I have lived alone and have seen some clutter and dirty refrigerators in my time.  I have never seen a bathroom, kitchen or every other part of the house, this bad.  I sent the ex tenant a letter detailing every item that needed cleaning and a cost to do so.  For example, the stove had 3 years of baked on crap and I had to replace the drip pans and electric coils.  I charged them $35 to clean and the cost of replacing the coils and drip pans.  The tenants had left bike tire marks and grime on almost every wall requiring me to prime then paint.  I charged them for the paint and time to prime them.  Total was $45.  The list could go on and on, but the point is that I do not feel I charged them in excess of what the actual costs were to fix the crap-hole they let my place turn into.  Yeah I know, should have done maint. checks more often. 

Question is: I am taking them to small claims court since they have disputed items that I charged them and expect me to pay them $60 after I sent them a bill for $270 above and beyond their deposit.  How do the judges treat LL who do the work themselves?  I took very detailed pictures both before cleaning and after cleaning so the proof is there. 

Also since the tenants sent a letter disputing only a portion of the items I sent them, does that mean the courts will view all the items the tenants did not dispute as legitimate?  They are of course, but this will be my first time going to court.

Thanks
OHlandlord

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Posts: 3,814
Reply with quote  #2 
First let me preface my answer as it being based in southern OH.  Kurt may be able to tell you more about the courts in Cols.

You sent them an accounting letter, good.  I assume you detailed in it what had to be done, why it needed done, and what you chaged them for each item.  The tenants can contest any part of your charges, just as anyone can file a lawsuit these days.  Some courts will only let them contest the part they disputed in the court papers, others will let them contest anything.  Be prepared by taking everything with you to court, just in case.  Did you send them a move-out letter by any chance?  Detailing exactly what they needed to do to clean up the unit before they left, and what you would charge them for if they didn't do it?  (If not, prepare one for next time.  I give tenants a copy at move in, and another when they notify me they are leaving so they can't say they didn't know what they had to do.)

The first thing they will probably contest is the painting.  They will say that since they lived there 3 yrs, you would have needed to paint anyways.  You need to be able to counter that the unit was too dirty to just paint over the dirt on the walls.

The stove really isn't disputable.  They should have kept it in clean working condition.  I also charge my tenants if they do not clean the appliances before they leave.

I hope you took numerous pictures of the unit when they left.  Take these into court.  As long as the judge doesn't see you as wrongfully (& willfully) charging the tenant for things that were ordinary wear and tear, you should do OK.  Be prepared though.  The judge may find that a family who lived in a house for 3 yrs may have much more wear and tear expected that what you or I would expect.  You may end up losing some of those extra charges you made.  I can't really say since I don't know what the other charges were.
Dirt on the walls after 3 yrs could be construed as ordinary wear & tear.  I don't see how bicycle tire marks on any wall could be.  Make sure that you make this point if it comes up.  If you list other charges I may be able to help more.  Good luck.

ColumbusLL

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Posts: 3
Reply with quote  #3 

So it finally was heard a month and a half ago by Magistrate Paat.  Even though I had numerous photos of how the tenants left the apartment, the case was dismissed w/o prejudice. 

The tenants had nothing, just a bunch of "nuh uh, we didn't leave the apartment like that."  Even though the proof was staring him in the face.  Unbelievable!


The magistrate was just concerned about how I charged the tenants for clean up.  $35 to clean this nasty a$$ tub is a good reference point.  I worked about 4 hrs to clean that thing and the magistrate said my time was worth NOTHING!  It's pathetic how these "judges" can sit there and know you bust your arse to make a place presentable and say "Nope, sorry, that's part of the job."  That your time is not worth anything.

So basically what I got out of this is that I will need to screw someone else over.  I will have to call a cleaning service, repairman, or whatever, get a written estimate knowing full well that I will not be using the guy/gal and am wasting their time so that I can charge to clean it up. 

What a joke.

(BTW, the tub came clean, almost like new)

 
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patadams

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Posts: 43
Reply with quote  #4 
The judge is only allowed/supposed to rule by what is law and the law says your time is worthless.  The judge may agree with you that you should be compensated, but is bound to follow the law.  So it really is not totally the judges fault, it is the way the system works. So.... work with what the system gives you.
I have a friend of mine who does a lot of fix up construction work and is a LL as well and got me into the business.  I go it and clean and fix and everything else. He gave me his letterhead and I write up what I think what he fairly would have charged me if I did hire him.  He asks me to just give him a copy so that if anyone contacts him he is aware of it.  So I do the work but have an invoice from him saying he did the work and I then charge them the amount on the invoice.  Not right, but I think is fair for the work I did.
ColumbusLL

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Posts: 3
Reply with quote  #5 
Pat,

Thanks for the tip.  Can you point me to the code where it states a LL cannot be paid for his/her time?

Danke
OHlandlord

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Posts: 3,814
Reply with quote  #6 
Per Ohio Revised Code:

5321.16 Procedures for security deposits.

(A) Any security deposit in excess of fifty dollars or one month’s periodic rent, whichever is greater, shall bear interest on the excess at the rate of five per cent per annum if the tenant remains in possession of the premises for six months or more, and shall be computed and paid annually by the landlord to the tenant.

(B) Upon termination of the rental agreement any property or money held by the landlord as a security deposit may be applied to the payment of past due rent and to the payment of the amount of damages that the landlord has suffered by reason of the tenant’s noncompliance with section 5321.05 of the Revised Code or the rental agreement. Any deduction from the security deposit shall be itemized and identified by the landlord in a written notice delivered to the tenant together with the amount due, within thirty days after termination of the rental agreement and delivery of possession. The tenant shall provide the landlord in writing with a forwarding address or new address to which the written notice and amount due from the landlord may be sent. If the tenant fails to provide the landlord with the forwarding or new address as required, the tenant shall not be entitled to damages or attorneys fees under division (C) of this section.

(C) If the landlord fails to comply with division (B) of this section, the tenant may recover the property and money due him, together with damages in an amount equal to the amount wrongfully withheld, and reasonable attorneys fees.

Effective Date: 11-04-1974

Nowhere does it state that landlords cannot charge for their time.  It merely says to itemize your deductions.  I believe this is your local court's/magistrate's idea.  The whole chapter on Landlord tenant law can be found at http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/5321
patadams

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Posts: 43
Reply with quote  #7 

You are correct OHlandlord, I just searched and couldn't find it, but I do know it is a gray area at times or could be, as ColumbusLL found, so to get around all of the BS, this is how we do it.  This way it is cut and dry - I can say, here is what I was charged, here is what it cost - no wishy-washy guess work of if I overcharged and all of that. And hey, my time away from my family or other things I could be doing like watching TV is worth something.  Why should the tenant who leaves a mess not be charged any more than the one who cleans the place up nice?  The rates used are fair.  The one thing the law does state regarding things put in the lease is that the charges cannot be excessive or unconscionable which could be subject to interpretation (I believe this is the code that stops large late charges):

5321.14. Unconscionable agreement
(A)If the court as a matter of law finds a rental agreement, or any clause thereof, to have been unconscionable at the time it was made, it may refuse to enforce the rental agreement or it may enforce the remainder of the rental agreement without the unconscionable clause, or it may so limit the application of any unconscionable clause as to avoid any unconscionable result. (B) When it is claimed or appears to the court that the rental agreement, or any clause thereof, may be unconscionable, the parties shall be afforded a reasonable opportunity to present evidence as to its setting, purpose, and effect to aid the court in making the determination.

I believe I confused this with the Tax Law IRS, which states you cannot charge for your time and deduct it as an expense.

At any rate, I usually charge them for this anyhow and let the judge decide if they allow it to go through or not.  I have found that our judge one time asked me what the total charges were and I gave the total. He looked at the tenant and asked if that sounded about right and he said, "Yea", and that was it, I won, next case.  So I put everything on the invoice I bring with me knowing that it may just all go through if not questioned, but aware of the fact that some items may get shot down.

I have never had to yet use any of the invoices, I just had them with me. So far I have just had them listed on an itemized statement and that has always been good enough. I have the invoice though to back it up if further detail is asked for. So it might be worth it to give the guy $10-$15 for the estimate/invoice he prepares that he would charge to clean it, then do it yourself and charge the tenant what the estimate says. In my area, there is a guy who does go into foreclosed homes and such to clean up the left behind trash and realtors/landlords pay him.  There might be one in your area as well.

Also, these may be helpful: 
http://moritzlaw.osu.edu/shlc/docs/security-deposits.pdf
http://www.ohiolegalservices.org/OSLSA/PublicWeb/Library/Documents/1036683529.94/L-TbkltJan03rev.pdf?dl_type=Legal+Education&dl_doc_group=Legal+Education



OHlandlord

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Posts: 3,814
Reply with quote  #8 
I've never had a problem with charging them for my own labor, as long as the per hour charge is equal or below what I would have to pay another person to do that job.  So for cleaning I charge only about $8/hr as that is an unskilled labor average.  But for skilled labor (much of which I know how to do) I can charge the going rate (although I keep it below that so I could show that I can do it cheaper than the contractor).  Do you think the drywall contractor, painter, electrician, or plumber would work for $8/hr.?  Heck no.  I have never had a problem with this in my area, but then again, perhaps our magistrate is more pro-LL than yours. 

That's the problem with the gray areas in the law, it allows each judge to use his own opinion in his decisions.  If the judge had a bad experience once with a LL, he may rule against us for charging for our labor even though the law doesn't prohibit it.  Our LL-Tenant laws need to be updated.  We need a more streamlined eviction process, easier garnishment laws, a definition of abandonment written in, and a rule that we can uniformly charge for our labor.  I'd love to see our LL groups around the state push the legislature for these. 

Compare our laws with other states.  You'll see that some states have much better laws than ours.  (Did you know AZ has a uniform garnishment law?  The state keeps a database of all employees on file.  If you ever get a judgment there, it is automaticly garnished from their paycheck.  No more trying to track down their new job once they quit after being garnished.)  Sigh!!!  Why can't we have a law like that?

But I digress, yes, you can get an invoice or estimate from a contractor to show how much the repairs/cleaning would cost.  You can also hire a teenager or another family member and pay them (by check) for their labor.  If you have a copy of the check marked "cleaning costs for Apt. X", that should hold up in court.  I've even typed up a list of what I "had them do" and had them sign it.  That works too.  We shouldn't have to do all that.  A few simple pictures and our statements should be enough.  Surely any judge can tell how much cleaning was needed by a photo.  And failure to clean is NOT normal wear and tear and shouldn't be considered the cost of doing business.  (Does a department store, a car rental place, or an insurance company have to clean up messes like we do?)
sidnie

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Posts: 8
Reply with quote  #9 
ColumbusLL wrote: So basically what I got out of this is that I will need to screw someone else over.  I will have to call a cleaning service, repairman, or whatever, get a written estimate knowing full well that I will not be using the guy/gal and am wasting their time so that I can charge to clean it up. 

What a joke.

I just want to say, as someone who is going to have to take their LL to court because he is screwing me over, this kind of talk from another LL, scares the crap out of me!

I certainly would be nice if the honest people in the world didn't have to deal with the dishonest people, which unfortunately are the majority.
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