Q: We rented a house for 2½ years and recently moved out. The homeowners are now claiming we owe them an additional $1,304 on top of our security deposit of $1,200 in order to cover their cost of repairing some damages to the home. Some of the repairs they list we agree with. However, the biggest repair we are disputing is $1,350 to refinish the hardwood floors because of stains and burns.
The homeowners lived in the home for nine years before we moved in, and most of the damage was caused by them. I have a move-in video that proves that a majority of the stains were on the floor when we moved in. Because the video provides evidence that the homeowners caused most of the damage to the floors during the nine years they lived in the home before our renting it, I don’t believe we should have to pay the full expense of refinishing their hardwood floors.
The homeowners are also charging us for an unpaid water and sewer bill of $288, along with a few other miscellaneous repairs. What should we do?
A: Minnesota law allows a landlord to withhold from a tenant’s security deposit the amount reasonably necessary to cover any unpaid rent or any other money owed because of an agreement, or to restore the house to its condition at the time you began renting, excluding ordinary wear and tear.
You should write the homeowner a letter stating that you have a move-in video along with photos that will prove that the damage to their floors was preexisting and that you didn’t cause the majority of the damage to their hardwood floors.
As for the water and sewer bill, the Minnesota attorney general states that a landlord and tenant may indicate in the lease which party is responsible for paying the utilities; the lease should then include language pointing out the party responsible for the utilities. If there is no language in your lease stating that you as tenants are responsible for the water and sewer bills, then you have a good argument that your landlord is responsible for this outstanding bill because that was intended to be included as part of your rent.
In your letter, indicate the repairs that you believe are legitimate, and request that the homeowner refund the difference. If you don’t receive a partial refund of your security deposit, you should then file a claim in conciliation court. Make sure you attach pictures and any other proof that you have, supporting your claim for a refund, to your affidavit that you file with the court.
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.