Q: I recently moved out of an apartment where I had a lease for one year, from February 2016 to February 2017. Within that year, I wasn’t even living in the unit during September, and was rarely there at the beginning of my lease because of work.
I continued to pay my rent on time from September to the end of the lease. I received my security deposit back, stating that out of the $500 deposit, I am getting only $59.13 back. My landlord has charged me $275 for paint and $98 for cleaning the carpets. I did not get to have a walk-through with the landlord, and I did not receive pictures describing what I was getting charged for and why. Is this something I could fight? It doesn’t seem right, considering I was rarely there. I even had other people accompany me while I was leaving, and they don’t believe it seems reasonable, either.
A: Minnesota law regarding security deposits states that your landlord may withhold only amounts reasonably necessary to cover any rent payments or other funds owed to you due to an agreement, or to restore your apartment to its condition at the beginning of your lease, excluding ordinary wear and tear. Within three weeks after your lease terminates, your landlord needs to send you a letter or a written document stating the specific reason for withholding all or part of your deposit, along with a check for the entire deposit or a portion of it. Your landlord needs to indicate, in the letter that came with your partial refund of $59.13, the amounts that are being withheld and what they are being used for, such as repairs, cleaning and other similar items.
Whether you were living in the unit full time or only staying there a few nights, it makes no difference as far as the amount you receive back from your security deposit. You indicated that you paid rent on time from September to the end of your lease, but you did not say whether you paid rent on time from February to September, which most likely doesn’t matter, since you’ve probably paid those late fees if any were accrued.
Your landlord’s charge of $275 for paint seems high to me. However, maybe your landlord forgot to mention that it also covered hours of labor for repainting your unit. Unless you made marks on the walls that were too difficult to fix, you should not be charged for paint or the labor involved in painting your unit, since that is typically seen as normal wear and tear.
Landlords cannot charge tenants for new carpeting, unless it was new when the tenant moved in and the tenant destroyed it. However, landlords can charge tenants for cleaning the carpet and the entire apartment, as the amount is reasonable. I believe $98 for cleaning the carpets sounds reasonable, and most judges would probably agree. Also, you didn’t mention the $68 that is missing from your security deposit, so I’m assuming those are fees or expenses you aren’t disputing.
You should contact your landlord and explain that paint, along with the hours of labor spent painting, is typically viewed as normal wear and tear and should not be taken out of your security deposit. I know you weren’t given a walk-through at the end of your tenancy, but if you have any photos from when you moved in and some from when you moved out, that will help when having a discussion with your landlord. If your landlord agrees to increase your security deposit refund after your conversation, please make sure to get any agreement 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.