Q: My husband and I rented an apartment in Apple Valley for 3½ years. Upon giving notice, we were told we would have to pay for new carpet, since some stains would not come out, and there was more than normal wear. We received a phone call telling us about a charge of $2,200 and the so-called deductions for length of rental and damage deposit that would be used toward the balance owed. Over the phone we were told that $700 was deducted for time rented, and then $500 was deducted for our damage deposit. This is not what appeared in the letter we received from the company that owns the building. Oddly, it was noted on the move-in checklist document that there were already stains on the supposed “new” carpet. Do we have any recourse regarding this action?
A: Minnesota law states that your landlord may withhold from your security deposit only amounts reasonably necessary to cover rent owed or other funds owed based on an agreement, such as your lease, or to restore the place to its condition at the start of your lease, ordinary wear and tear excepted. The burden of proof for withholding all or part of your security deposit is on your landlord. Since you have a move-in checklist stating the condition of your carpet as already being stained, then you have proof the carpet was damaged before you moved in. If you have any photos of what the carpet looked like on the day you moved in, along with photos of what the carpet looks like now that you’re moving out, those photos will help prove the carpet was already in poor condition at the beginning of your tenancy.
As the move-in checklist document stated, there were already stains on the carpet in your apartment on the day you moved in. After living there for 3½ years, there is expected to be additional wear and tear to the carpet. Generally, tenants are not required to cover the cost of new carpeting, unless it was new on the day they moved in and the tenants only stayed a short period of time. In addition, most courts understand that landlords depreciate carpets over some period, usually not exceeding 7 years. Since you lived there 3½ years, most courts would think that you would only owe for half the cost of new carpet, even assuming that it was in perfect shape when you moved in.
Your landlord has 21 days to either return your security deposit, or send a letter containing the amounts withheld and why, along with any remainder of your deposit. If you are not satisfied with the outcome, you can sue in conciliation court for the return of your security deposit. You should attach before and after photos if you have them, along with a copy of your move-in checklist as proof the carpet was already damaged.
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.