Q: My daughter and her boyfriend leased an apartment in May 2019 and paid a security deposit equal to one month's rent, plus a pet deposit for a cat. Their lease expired Aug. 31, 2020, and they vacated the apartment, provided a new address and returned the keys on Aug. 30. All the move-out cleaning was done properly, and there was no damage to the apartment. On Sept. 22, after the three-week time frame required by law to get a deposit returned or notification of damages, I e-mailed an inquiry about the status of the security deposit. I got a reply that indicated some confusion about the request, and then I got a voice mail that was unintelligible. I left voice mails and sent another e-mail and never heard anything again until my daughter received an undated letter postmarked Oct. 1. The letter stated that, due to an odor of cat urine, they needed to replace all the carpet and were charging them an additional $438. This was on top of keeping their security deposit of $911 for carpet replacement and charging $50 for a miniblind replacement.
When they moved into the apartment in 2019, they complained of cat urine odor as part of the move-in checklist. I have this documented in an e-mail. They contacted the landlord multiple times until a representative came to visit, used a special light to prove there were no cat urine spots and insisted the carpet had been thoroughly cleaned prior to move-in. With little choice or options of moving again, the tenants lived with the odor, doing their best to cover it up with products for pet odors and air fresheners.
The miniblind they needed to replace was so old and brittle that it crumbled when we cleaned it, and it would seem to have lived its useful life, so I'm guessing the landlord should be responsible for replacing it. I have photos of everything. We have notified the landlord of all this information, sent them a copy of the e-mail complaint of the cat urine smell from May 2019, and let them know they did not notify us of this issue until after the 21-day deadline. They are not responding. What are our rights to get this security deposit back and how best can we proceed in pursuing it?
A: When tenants move out, the landlord has 21 days to either return the security deposit to the tenants with interest, or send a letter specifying the reason for keeping all of the deposit or part of it. The landlord may withhold from the security deposit only an amount reasonably necessary to restore the place to its condition at the start of the tenancy, excluding ordinary wear and tear. The landlord may also withhold from the security deposit any rent that is still owed or any other money owed based on an agreement, such as utilities.
The landlord should not be requiring your daughter and her boyfriend to cover the cost of new carpeting, since carpet depreciates over time. For example, if the carpet was brand new when the tenants moved in, and their cats destroyed it, then there would be a legitimate claim by the landlord for carpet cost. However, these tenants lived in the unit a little over a year, and complained about the smelly carpet right when they moved in, proving they did not cause the odorous carpet.
If the miniblind crumbled when you cleaned it, it probably was not brand new and would most likely be considered ordinary wear and tear, which is excluded.
Since you've already contacted the landlord and they aren't willing to refund any of the deposit, you will need to file a claim in conciliation court in the county where the property is located. You should attach any proof you have of the carpet and blind's condition when your daughter moved in, such as photos, complaints about the carpet smell and any other evidence that can assist with your claim.
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.