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We recently moved out of an apartment. Our lease term was completed with no dues on utilities etc. I was never late on paying rent etc.

The lease was ending on Feb-27th, but we returned keys on Feb-24th. Landlord has sent a bill that has a line item - early move out (3 days), for $177.

There is no such thing in the lease agreement. Also, the letter is coming directly from their collections dept, specifically instructing me not to call leasing office.

I have asked them for an explanation. What can I do if they do not remove this charge? Amount is not large enough to involve a lawyer in the matter. For reference, this landlord is in Pennsylvania, USA.

UPDATE:

Got a response from collections office saying that their system had accounting issue due to returning keys early. They had credited my account for 3 days of rent. Now I am negotiating for the carpet charge .

UPDATE-04/01/2021 Got this response from collections office regarding carpet of $740.

Be advised that used the Landlord-Tenant Act of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs: and applicable laws for proration. Since the damage fell within the 5-yr life expectancy of the carpet install "you're only being charged for the remaining useful life of the carpet that was damaged"36"

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    Does the $177 equal 3 days of rent? Did you pay all the way through the 27/28 Feb? Did you get the security deposit back? – mhoran_psprep Mar 31 at 14:17
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    Carpet is typically a wear/tear item they can't charge for unless you ruined it, ie 2 year old carpet that you had pets peeing on or poured wine all over is something a tenant would pay for, 7 year old carpet that didn't damage but for using it normally is not something they can charge for. They sound like a crappy company/person. – Hart CO Mar 31 at 14:40
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    You're paying 900 dollars just to avoid getting a lawyer involved? – DonQuiKong Apr 1 at 5:57
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    It doesn't sounds like the same thing, but I had a similar issue once, where "Early Move Out Fee" was listed on the invoice, but it turned out to be the system they used for rent and fees was relatively inflexible and refunded us the money for moving out early, but that wasn't how the lease was listed, so they just added a fee to undo the "Early Move Out Refund" – reffu Apr 1 at 12:26
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    @NRJ demand they prove the carpet was damaged beyond normal wear and tear before you pay a single penny of that charge. – asgallant Apr 1 at 16:07
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The carpet seems suspect too unless you trashed it.

The $177 feels illegal to me. I might go as far as leaning that way even if the rental agreement included the rule! (Just because something's in an agreement doesn't make it legally enforceable.)

Had you taken it upon yourself to reduce your last month's rent by 3 days because you turned the keys in early, then I'd agree with the charge. But if the last month is paid in full, the charge doesn't even make sense. It's as if they are charging you $177 to store the keys in a desk for 3 days. If anything it would be far more logical for you to ask them to pay you $177 than the other way around. (It would be wrong to ask, but at least sensible.) Unless someone legitimately messed up and thought they were charging for 3 days late, this seems like a blatant attempt to take advantage of you. And the words "early move out" on the invoice points to it being intentional. I'd fight that charge pretty hard, and might even die on the hill. (I'm getting worked up just answering this question.)

I'd give them a call and ask them if they would have charged you if you had turned the keys in 3 days later. If they say No, give them a chance to remove the charge, or else put the gloves on.

As a side note, apparently your landlord isn't the first to try these shenanigans. In this case the advice was to write a letter and it apparently worked.

Update: A comment by @reffu to the question mentioned a situation where an early move out fee happened due to an automatic refund being triggered first. I'd check to see if that happened, just in case.

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    Invoices are as much an accounting instrument as a demand instrument. If the $177 early move out fee is paired with a $177 reduction in the last months rent this would make sense to me. The important thing for OP to check to eliminate this possiblity is the balance. – Taemyr Apr 1 at 11:09
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    Good answer but I disagree with this bit — "If you're close by and have your doubts I might demand they show you the new carpet" — as it feels like if you offered that, you would be agreeing with their premise that if they did buy a new carpet then it's justified that the old tenant pays. Whether or not they decided to redecorate is immaterial, the thing they should focus on is the wear & tear of the old carpet vs expected average for the timeframe they lived there. – anotherdave Apr 1 at 12:36
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    @anotherdave - that's a good point and I agree with you. I removed that sentence. – TTT Apr 1 at 13:18
  • @Taemyr - could be. A comment on the question mentions the possibility where a refund check was automatically triggered. I updated my answer to reflect that, just in case. (I actually hope that's what happened.) – TTT Apr 1 at 13:35
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Check with the town/city/county/state regarding landlord-tenant help. They usually have a website or document that discusses what steps are supposed to happen, and when those steps must occur.

Assuming the fee isn't justified, the jurisdiction they suggest you go to arbitration, or you might have to file a claim through small claims court. The limits and rules for those options are handled on the local level.

Usual issues that happen between the landlord and tenant at the end of the lease involve: wear and tear vs normal use; damages; not paying for the last months rent. There are timelines and requirements regarding all of these issues.

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Make them prove it

Every single time I've moved out I have had the landlord attempt to charge me for carpet. And every single time, there was a grain of truth to their argument, but it sure wasn't a whole sandbox.

My first apartment, my dog had an accident that irreversibly stained the carpet (trust me I tried) in the living room. Understandably, the landlord wanted to charge me to replace the carpet. Less understandably was that they wanted to charge me to replace the carpet in the bedroom as well.

My second apartment, my dog's anxiety caused him to tear up the carpet at the 4'x4' landing at the bottom of the stairs. I knew it was wrecked and I'd get something about it after move out. And I did, along with a claim that I needed to replace all the other carpet in the unit.

In both of these cases, I was forthright with the damage that I knew about but requested that they demonstrate damages beyond that which justified replacement beyond the areas in question. I requested the following:

  • Pictures of the supposed extra damage (beyond reasonable wear and tear);
  • Documents proving the age of the carpet when I moved in; and
  • A citation to any specific laws that they were basing their decisions upon.

Ideally you've taken your on own pictures prior to move out to push back with, but in both the cases above I found that by insisting they prove it suddenly made the effort associated with chasing down their tenuous claim not worth the effort. And surprisingly, they didn't even try to charge me for the damage that I was definitely responsible for (though counterpoint, they did charge me pet rent and what's that for if not this exact situation).


Regarding the issue with $177, nope. Don't pay it. If they inadvertently gave you a refund they shouldn't have, then hold onto it for now until you resolve the carpet issue because that inadvertent refund just became leverage.


One more thing to note in case it's not clear. Their collections office is not a collection agency. Forcing them to prove these things won't have a negative impact on your credit and if it does, you can contest that.

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  • Yep, make them prove it. My last landlord wanted me to pay for carpet where one corner was stained by a rusty file cabinet, but it was rusted by a leaky foundation the previous landlord fixed. They also wanted me to pay for a window that was broken by severe cold weather. I said I wasn't going to pay for any of it, or the carpet shampooing, which is illegal in that state unless it's "beyond normal wear and tear". I was firm, but polite and they ended up not pursuing the fines. – computercarguy Apr 1 at 17:01
  • I guess the salient point is, the leasing agency would also not like the inconvenience of hiring a lawyer. – jpaugh Apr 2 at 19:42
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    @jpaugh honestly, kind of. The definition of "reasonable wear and tear" isn't particularly specific. But in general, I think most tenants aren't meeting the criteria of destroying the carpet but some career landlords are going to act like the tenant did because they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. But the fact remains, the tenant doesn't have a duty to return the unit exactly as they received it, they have a duty to return it minus "reasonable wear and tear". I've been a landlord before and certain costs you gotta eat, it's why rent is more than just the mortgage. – Pyrotechnical Apr 2 at 19:52
  • I once had that happen to me on an apartment that didn't even have carpet when I was living there. (He apparently wanted to install carpet after I moved out and tried to charge me for it. Luckily I was able to get out of it.) – Darrel Hoffman Apr 2 at 20:25
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Nobody is trying to get over on you here - someone just made a normal human mistake. The landlord is probably just entering information into a computer program that handles these things. When they put in your early move-out date, probably there was an assumption that you only PAID through the 24th, which is obviously not the case. You paid through the end of month, as required by your lease.

I suggest that you ignore the collector and just call the landlord directly. Explain the situation and ask them to just correct your account and call off the collector.

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    Not a bad suggestion, but I wouldn't assume they aren't trying to fleece the tenant, already charging them for carpet replacement + some. Could be reasonable, could be scummy landlord. – Hart CO Mar 31 at 18:19
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    I WOULD assume they are not trying to fleece the tenant. You'll be correct far more often assuming that someone has made an honest, well intentioned error than that they are deliberately trying to harm someone. If further evidence indicates that they ARE trying to cause harm, then you can change your mind. – Michael Mar 31 at 18:45
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    I don't think it's normal for people to pro-rate their own final payment without permission. If they did, the charge would be for "Rent Due" rather than "Early Move Out". – TTT Mar 31 at 21:03
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    Don't ignore the collection agency. They're persistent -- that's their business. – Pete Becker Apr 1 at 13:41
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    @Michael If you assume the other person is not malicious (even at times when it's clear that they are), you'll have much more pleasant interactions with them. However, you still need to pay attention to protect yourself throughout the interaction, in case you're wrong. – jpaugh Apr 2 at 19:45
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Michigan (where I am a landlord) law differ from PA law, so YMMV. My understanding is that I am not allowed to take damages from a tenant's deposit for "reasonable" damages, such as the normal wear-and-tear on carpeting during your tenancy (if you were in Michigan). For this reason, I perform walk-throughs at the beginning and end. If there's a spot in the carpet at the beginning of tenancy, I make note of it (and the tenant should make sure that I do). These days it's easy to take pictures of everything when you do the initial walk-through. If there's no picture of the carpet on move-in day, we'll assume it's OK. If there's a picture of damage on move-out day, it's on the tenant.

Here's another possibility, the guys repainting after you moved out failed to protect the carpet after you moved out. You need to keep photos on move-out day to prove this. I have a friend who's daughter was cheated out of her deposit by this very thing.

You know your circumstances better than I and if any of your former landlord's charges go beyond the extent of "reasonable" damage while you were there, dispute them. Deal with the landlord directly. It's wise to assume collections people are unprincipled liars and nothing they say should be taken seriously unless it is in writing. If they say the sun is shining, ask them to prove it.

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I am a landlord in Colo. I understand "normal wear & tear". But it's not the same as dirt, which is why I don't understand why it's not legal to charge for carpet cleaning, no matter how old it is, unless decrepit. I've found most new tenants are fine moving into new place with some normal wear and tear (though none is certainly better), but they're not so fine about dirt. And as long as I'm upfront and reasonable about cost of cleaning in lease, old tenant is fine about paying it. W&T is a wear pattern in carpet-which is not responsibility of tenant...but dirt is. If carpet is <5y.o. (which I believe is too short a life, esp. if it's burbor),and tenant puts non cleanable spot in one area and matching carpet is not available, what is landlord supposed to do? You've got to replace the whole room. And deduct certain amount for each year of carpet age that tenant is not responsible for. Landlord should just be made whole - not improved at tenant's expense. If you've had a real good tenant that's been there for awhile...cut 'em some slack.

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    Your personal definition of normal wear and tear doesn't matter, it's a term defined in state law. For Colorado that definition is as follows: “Normal wear and tear” means that deterioration which occurs, based upon the use for which the rental unit is intended, without negligence, carelessness, accident, or abuse of the premises or equipment or chattels by the tenant or members of his household, or their invitees or guests. – barbecue Apr 3 at 19:39
  • I understand and "agree" with that definition of "Normal wear and tear"...but nowhere does it mention "dirt". Current law now states that the premises must be returned in the condition it was received, less normal wear and tear. Dirt, which can be removed, does not fall under the category of "negligence, carelessness, accident, or abuse of the premises..." – dan jacobson Apr 4 at 1:31
  • Nowhere does it mention abrasion, scuffing, pile distortion, pilling, subsidence, paint peeling, varnish discoloring, or a host of other forms that wear and tear could take. If you want to argue that dirt is not part of normal wear and tear, you'll need to find existing case law to support that position, we don't get to decide for ourselves what laws mean, that's what judges are for. – barbecue Apr 4 at 15:35

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