Q: We have moved from a home we were renting, and the landlord is now withholding our security deposit. We have read the Minnesota Attorney General Handbook but are still confused about some of the charges.
The landlord is charging us for things like air-duct cleaning, flea removal (although our pet had no fleas), painting the entire home, housecleaning three weeks after he moved back into the home, and carpet cleaning. However, we already paid to have most of the heavily traveled areas professionally carpet-cleaned, and I cleaned the rest.
We lived there for only one year, so we feel he is acting in bad faith. He did not pay us interest on our deposit, and he exceeded the three-week return policy. We paid the landlord a $1,925 security deposit, of which $350 was a nonrefundable pet deposit.
A: Minnesota law states that all deposits must be refunded to the extent that they are not applied to cover the costs of outstanding rent or returning the property to its condition at the time the unit is rented, ordinary wear and tear excepted. Some courts uphold nonrefundable rent deposits as necessary and proper charges, while most courts require a landlord to provide a detailed accounting of how a pet deposit is applied, similar to all other deposit funds, and also require that the landlord return the unapplied portion of any pet deposits.
As to the charges by your landlord, since you lived in the house only one year, being responsible for the cost of painting the entire home seems unreasonable and most likely not recoverable by the landlord, unless there was some excessive damage to the walls that you or your family caused within the year you were living there. It would seem that the pet deposit should cover flea removal and duct cleaning, and that there should not be a charge over and above the amounts allocated in the pet deposit.
Depending on the age of the carpet, the condition at the time of move-in and move-out, carpet cleaning may or may not be considered by the court to be ordinary wear and tear, as opposed to something that needs to be paid by the tenant.
A landlord can charge a reasonable fee for having the house cleaned after you move. Having it done three weeks after he moves in is probably an acceptable time frame, but once again, it depends on the condition of the house after you departed. Even though you cleaned the house yourself, housecleaning fees may or may not be reasonable to withhold from your security deposit, depending on the actual circumstances.
You should write your landlord and request that he return the balance of your deposit, minus any amounts that you consider proper. If he doesn’t return the deposit, you can file a claim in Conciliation Court by filling out the necessary forms in the county where the house is located.
In any action concerning the security deposit, the landlord has the burden of proof for withholding your deposit. You should bring any witnesses to court who can testify to the condition of your unit when you moved in and when you vacated. Also bring receipts for any cleaning or maintenance costs that you may have incurred.
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, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.