Q: I received a $400 reduction on my security deposit based on my landlord withholding money to cover water bills. His explanation is that he went back 15 months and checked the water bills and noticed the bills were more than $45 per month, which was the dollar amount he was charging me for water. My landlord provided me with proof of each month’s water bill. The water is not in my name, so I never saw any of these bills. If I had known this was happening, I would’ve addressed the issue sooner. My lease states that I am to pay $45 per month for water. There is no mention of paying the “actual charges or overages,” which is what my landlord is now trying to recover by keeping $400 of my security deposit. What is my recourse?
A: Within 21 days every landlord must return a tenant’s full deposit with interest, or send a letter explaining the reason for withholding all or part of the deposit. The landlord may withhold from the deposit only amounts reasonably necessary to cover rent or other money owed based on an agreement, or to restore the property to its condition at the start of the tenancy, excluding ordinary wear and tear.
Your lease states you are to pay $45 a month for water. You should contact your landlord and let him know the language in your lease rules. Your landlord cannot turn around and claim that the language in your lease wasn’t accurate, because both parties already agreed on the $45 per month. You signed your lease based on the water bill being $45 a month, and you might not have signed that lease if your water bill was going to be an additional $400.
Contact your landlord right away and let him know that the law states that the lease language controls the water bill amount both parties agreed on. If he refuses to reimburse you the $400, you have the option of taking him to conciliation court. You will need to file a claim in the county where the rental property is located. The landlord has the burden of proving the reason for withholding any part of your security deposit.
Q: I am a tenant who lives with two other roommates in a rental unit. One of my roommates wants to move out. My other roommate and I do not want to move out. We can afford to remain in the unit. How do we do this without getting kicked out because our lease will be broken? What options do we have?
A: Your options depend on the language in your lease and whether your landlord is willing to work out a deal with you and the remaining tenant.
Your lease is not “broken” just because one tenant moves out. Typically, if there is time left on the lease, then the tenant moving out is still responsible for his or her share of the rent until the lease ends.
If your lease states that you are all jointly and severally liable for the rent, and your roommate leaves before the lease term, then your landlord can come after you and/or the remaining tenant for the entire rent amount. If your landlord is releasing the tenant who wants to move out from the lease, or your lease term has ended, then you should go to your landlord and request another lease for you and the remaining tenant. Your landlord cannot evict you just because one tenant moves out before the lease terminates.
You should contact your landlord immediately and explain the situation. Make sure to tell your landlord that you and your roommate would like to sign a new lease and that together you are able to handle the entire rent payment. Most landlords would prefer keeping two tenants who can afford the monthly payments rather than having to clean, advertise and show the unit to find three new renters. Make sure to get any new agreement you enter into with your landlord in writing and signed by both parties.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.