Q: I have an issue with my former landlords. I rented a house from them in Rose­ville for 28 years. My rent was reasonable, and I had a large yard where I could garden. My initial security deposit was $1,000, and I signed a three-year lease. I was never asked to sign another lease. When there was an issue with appliances or the sewer, they would quickly respond and fix things.

I treated the home like it was my own. I painted all of the rooms, replaced screen doors, the bathroom vanity, the garage door, and I put in new light fixtures with fans. With my landlords’ permission, I replaced a countertop in the kitchen, along with a new tile floor. I paid for these improvements.

Sixteen years ago I asked them to pay for paint for the exterior of the house, which they did, so I spent the summer scraping and painting the house. This year, the neighborhood gave me an award for having the prettiest yard. However, the owners did not keep up the exterior of the house after I told them I was getting too old to climb a ladder and do it myself. The paint is now peeling, and the windows are decaying, so the city of Roseville fined the landlords for failing to keep up the exterior. I made the decision to purchase a townhouse and move from the neighborhood. I expected to get my deposit back with interest, but instead I received a letter saying they were charging me more than $200 for a lawn mower that would have been 28 years old had I not replaced it without asking them for a new one. I’ve actually had to purchase another lawn mower since the replacement mower over the past 28 years.

They also charged me for things that were in the garage when I moved in and for paint that I left for them to do touch-ups on the house. They charged me for a broken garage-door window, which I had reported to them over a year before my moving, with the landlords’ promise to replace it, which they never did.

My children and my former neighbors feel I should go to conciliation court to get back the more than $500 they deducted from my security deposit. I have been out of the house for two months now. I did send them a letter saying I was disputing their deductions, but have heard nothing from them. Is it worth it, in your opinion, to pursue this matter?

 

A: Under Minnesota law, the 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 the landlord. The landlord must prove the reason for withholding all or any part of your security deposit.

In this case, your landlords are charging you for a lawn mower that was no longer working after 28 years, a broken window that they offered to replace at their expense, and some items left behind in their garage. Since you’ve already contacted your landlords regarding your deposit but haven’t heard back, you should file a claim in conciliation court in the county where the house is located. It appears that you have kept their home in good shape by replacing items you weren’t required to and painting. If you have pictures of the work you did, you should attach them to your claim. Also, if there are any witnesses, such as your neighbors, you may want to bring them to court with you. I believe it is worth pursuing an action in conciliation court since you were a great tenant for 28 years and deserve to be treated fairly.

Dog damages disputed

Q: My wife and I are renters, and our dog has caused significant damage to the carpet and walls in our rental house. Our landlord has made outrageous claims for the value of the damage caused by our dog. We are committed to repairing the damage. However, we believe we owe only the depreciated value of the paint and carpet. We plan to ask our landlord which company manufactured the carpeting and when was it installed, and also what date the house was painted. What should we do if the landlord does not know this information or have these dates?

 

A: Minnesota law states that your landlord may withhold from your security deposit only amounts reasonably necessary to get current on rental payments or money owed under an agreement, or to restore the rental unit to its condition at the time you started renting, excluding ordinary wear and tear. In any action concerning your security deposit, the burden of proof for withholding all or part of your deposit is on your landlord. Therefore, your landlord should be able to provide dates or estimated dates of when the house was painted and carpeting installed, along with which company installed the carpeting. If not, you should get current estimates yourself from painters and carpet installers and use those figures.

Most landlords probably don’t depreciate painting, but they usually do carpets. Some courts allow landlords to charge for the cost of repainting and re-carpeting, no matter how old or whether the items were depreciated. Other courts look to how old the carpet was and the landlord’s depreciation schedule to determine the amount a tenant owes in the event the carpet is damaged. Even if your landlord decides to replace all the carpeting and repaint all the walls, the tenant is typically responsible for paying only the value of the damaged areas of carpet and paint, excluding ordinary wear and tear. Often, the tenant is responsible only for the remaining depreciated value of the carpeting. You should take pictures of the areas where your dog did damage. You also should get estimates of what it would cost to replace the damaged carpet and paint the damaged wall areas so you have current figures to give your landlord in case there is a dispute.

 

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 kklein@kleinpa.com, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.