Q: Our previous landlord is trying to take us to court to require us to pay for her new carpet and because she said she had to do 70 hours of cleaning in our place after we moved out. We rented the house for 4½ years, and the carpet is the same carpet that was there when we moved in. The landlord has now sent us a bill for brand-new carpet. She still owes us for decks my husband built for her, but she never paid him for the work or lowered our rent for doing the work. What is the law regarding tenants having to pay for new carpeting? Is the landlord allowed to charge us for cleaning if she does the cleaning herself and doesn’t hire a company to perform the work?
A: In Minnesota, a landlord may withhold from the deposit only amounts reasonably necessary to cover rent or other money owed to the landlord, or to restore the house to its condition at the start of your tenancy, which excludes ordinary wear and tear. In any action concerning the deposit, the burden of proof is on your landlord, which means your landlord must provide the reason why she is withholding all or any part of your security deposit.
Some courts will look at how old the carpet was and the landlord’s depreciation schedule to figure the amount a tenant owes if the carpet is damaged. Other courts may allow landlords to charge for the cost of recarpeting, no matter how old the carpeting or if it was depreciated. You didn’t mention how damaged the carpet is, but with 4½ years of depreciation, along with normal wear and tear over that time, most landlords and courts won’t require tenants to cover the full cost of new carpeting. Tenants are typically responsible only for paying the value of the damaged part of the carpeting, which excludes ordinary wear and tear. For example, if the carpet is depreciated over nine years and it was new when you moved in, then you would only pay half the cost of the carpet, minus ordinary wear and tear, since you lived there 4½ years, which is half of the carpet’s nine-year life.
If you have pictures or are able to get pictures of the carpet at the time you moved in and what it looked like after you moved out, do so for evidence. You should also contact a carpet company and find out the cost of replacement for carpeting that is comparable to what is in your apartment.
If you didn’t have a separate written agreement regarding the deck work your husband performed for your landlord, then you should bring that up to your landlord and request that the carpet or the cleaning expenses be deducted from the money owed your husband for the deck work, or vice versa, depending on which amount is greater. If your landlord agrees to this arrangement, get the agreement in writing and signed by both parties. Typically, rent is reduced if a tenant is performing labor, such as building decks. In your case, you should put together proof of the number of hours your husband spent building the decks. If you have any receipts from expenses he incurred, include them.
Your landlord can charge you for the cost of cleaning, even if she does the cleaning herself and doesn’t hire a cleaning service. However, 70 hours of cleaning seems like a high number. Most courts will allow a reasonable fee for cleaning, which can range anywhere from $10 to $40 per hour, but 70 hours of cleaning seems excessive. You should gather as much proof as you can, including pictures of what the apartment looked like before and after your tenancy. You should talk to your landlord to arrive at an agreement regarding the carpeting, the deck work your husband did, and the cleaning expense. If you cannot come to an agreement and you end up in court, bring in some proof, such as pictures of the carpet, deck-work expenses and hours spent building the decks, and witnesses, if there are any, to confirm your statements.
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.