7

My wife and I rented an 1100-sqft house in Florida for the last six years. All rent was paid on time, and our credit is good. The landlord has been kind to us, doing such things as forgiving the difference when we accidentally underpaid for nine months. We recently bought our own house and moved out, and we have three weeks left on the lease. Our security deposit was just under $1000.

The lease stipulates that upon moving out, the interior walls must be completely repainted, we must have the house professionally fumigated, and we must have the carpets professionally steam-cleaned. We are to provide receipts, at the risk of not getting back our deposit if we do not comply.

We have about $3000 left in our moving fund, and I thought it would be more than enough to cover those move-out costs. I was wrong. A painter estimated $2000 plus the cost of paint. Fumigation will cost another $2000. The carpet cleaning is a mere $400 by comparison. If there were fleas or stains, I could appreciate the need for these expenditures, but the house is perfectly clean and ready for the next tenants. (We already had a maid service do all other cleaning.)

Painting the walls ourselves is an option but a daunting one. We have zero experience with painting, our free time is limited, and my wife is ill and shouldn't exert herself. We'd prefer to hire someone; the estimate given just happens to be several times what we expected.

Should we spend $4400+ (borrowing from other funds) to pay for these expenses, when the deposit that we'd get back is only $1000?

Would it damage our credit to skip these steps and forfeit the deposit? Are there other compelling motivators to pay?

If we skipped these steps, would we be putting our landlord on the hook to pay for these expenses himself by law, after he has treated us well for six years?

Thanks already for any answers or other advice that you have about this situation.

EDIT: I discussed these requirements with the landlord on the phone when I informed him that we're moving out, and last week I signed a letter of acknowledgement from him spelling out that these expenses were required (with receipts) in order to get back my deposit. I have not specifically asked for relief from paying them in light of how much they cost, but I could try that. There is no mention of my being required to pay extra costs beyond the deposit, in the letter or the lease.

  • 6
    Have you asked your landlord what he/she thinks? – Nathan L Jan 10 '17 at 19:24
  • 5
    100% agree with @NathanL. This is far more easily solved by having a conversation with the parties involved rather than strangers on a forum. Additionally, what is the specific terms of the lease? Do you only forfeit the deposit if you don't provide receipts, or only if you don't get the work done? The verbiage may stipulate that you're responsible for any costs over the amount of the deposit as well. – BobbyScon Jan 10 '17 at 19:29
  • 11
    Is it just me, or is a requirement to fumigate and paint before moving out really weird? I grew up in Florida and never heard of such a provision. Given the amount of money you might want to consult a lawyer here, because these terms seem extremely unusual and your liability could be considerable. There are also various laws to protect renters from bizarre move-out requirements, even if they are in the lease, and this seems borderline unacceptable to me. Fumigate + steam + paint seems well beyond reasonable move out requirements, anywhere I've lived. – BrianH Jan 10 '17 at 19:31
  • 2
    @BrianDHall Agreed. In many jurisdictions, I would guess that these terms are too restrictive on the tenants, and therefore may not be legally enforceable. The OP should look at the ombudsman's website in his/her jurisdiction to see what terms are acceptable. – Grade 'Eh' Bacon Jan 10 '17 at 19:44
  • 1
    Surely by law the internal wall would only need to be painted by you if the condition is worse than normal wear & tear, and the same with pests and carpets - but then again if you did agree to these terms at the start of your lease and signed off on them you might be stuck with having to do them. Maybe a lesson to think about if you ever rent again in the future. – Victor Jan 11 '17 at 1:39
11

Confer with the landlord

I am surprised at the amount of work this contract wants done. I'd question if it's even legal given the high costs. I suspect it's only there to remind abusive tenants of responsibilities they already have in law for extraordinary abuse beyond ordinary wear-and-tear: they are already on the hook to repaint if they trash the paint (think: child writing on walls, happens a lot), and already need to fumigate (and a lot more) if they are a filth-type hoarder who brings in a serious infestation (happens a lot). The landlord can already go after these people for additional money beyond the deposit. But that's not you.

So don't freak out about those clauses, until you talk to the landlord and see what he's really after.

Almost certainly, he really wants a "fit and ready to rent" unit upon your departure, so he doesn't have to take the unit off the market for months fixing it. As long as that's done, there's no reasonable reason for further work -- a decent landlord wouldn't require that. Nor would a court, IMO.

Is it really ready?

The trouble with living in a place for awhile is you become blind to its deficiencies. What's more, it's rather difficult to "size up" a unit as ready when it's still occupied by your stuff. A unit will look rather different when reduced to a bare room, without furniture and whatnot distracting you. Add to it a dose of vanity and it becomes hard to convince yourself of defects others will easily see. So, tread carefully here.

Is it valid? ...

If push comes to shove, first stop is whether it's even legal.

Cities and states with heavy tenant populations tend to have much more detailed laws, and as a rule, they favor the tenant.

Right off the bat, in most states the tenant is not responsible for ordinary wear-and-tear. In my opinion, 6 years of ordinary, exempt wear would justify a repaint, so that shouldn't be on the tenant at all. As for the fumigation, I'm not in Florida so I don't know the deal, maybe there's some special environmental issue there which somehow makes that reasonable, it sure wouldn't fly in CA. Again that assumes you're a reasonable prudent tenant, not a slob or hoarder.

As for the pro carpet cleaning, that's par for the course in any of the tough rent control areas I've seen, so that's gotten a pass from the legislators. Though $600 seems awfully high.

Other than that, you can argue the terms are "unconscionable" -- too much of a raw deal to even be fair. However, this will depend on the opinion of a judge. Hit or miss.

I'm hoping your landlord will be happy to negotiate based on the good condition of the unit (which he may not know; landlords rarely visit tenant units unless they really need to.) You certainly should make the case that you make here; that the work is not really needed and it's prohibitive.

Your best defense against unconscionable deals is don't sign them. Remember, you didn't know the guy when you initially signed... the now-objectionable language should have been a big red flag back then, saying this guy is epic evil, run screaming. (even if that turned out not to be true, you should't have hung around to find out.) You may have gotten lucky this time, but don't make that mistake again.

... Then it's a contract.

Unless one of the above pans out, though... a deal is a deal. You gave your word. The powerful act here is to keep your word. Forgive me for getting ontological, but successful people say it creates success for them.

And here's the thing. You have to read your contracts because you can't keep your word if you don't know what word you gave.

It's a common mistake: thinking good business is trust, hope, faith, submission or giving your all. No. In business, you take the time to hammer out mutually beneficial (win-win) agreements, and you set them on paper to eliminate confusion, argument and stress in the future as memories fade and conditions change. That conflict resolution is how business partners remain friends, or at least professional colleagues.

  • 3
    As an aside to wear-and-tear, carpet is 5 year depreciation property in rental real estate. As a negotiating point I'd assert the present value of carpet after 6 years is known to the IRS to be 0. irs.gov/publications/p527 – user662852 Apr 25 '18 at 15:17
  • @user662852 - Appliances too! Apparently the IRS understands that appliance manufacturers are producing a lot of crappy product that doesn't last these days. (good link!) – davidbak Dec 28 '18 at 21:22
-2

Legally, you are bound to do the repairs, and if you don't, you can be charged the amount of the repairs less your deposit -- in other words, you don't get your deposit back, but a bill for the difference.

Moreover, the landlord has no incentive to try to save money -- he could just hire out the costliest services he can, and expect you to pay for it.

Having said that -- shop around! I'm sure you can find a better bargain on workers. Not everyone will charge the same amount, in some cases, not even close. (Just try to make sure the work gets done on time and not months down the road.)

There is also a technique I call "threshholding" -- rather than trying to make everything perfect, just make it as good as need be so the landlord accepts it.

Finally, there is also the possibility of negotiating with the landlord -- so much money in exchange for him doing the cleanup/repairs. Probably not the best option.

  • I'm not sure I'd downplay talking to a landlord. If e.g. the landlord is planning on replacing some carpet, there's not much point in the tenant paying to have it cleaned. Further, a landlord might have connections in the cleaning business that would offer a better deal than what the tenant could get elsewhere. Ask if the landlord would like to look at the apartment and offer a settlement amount. If it's higher than what one could do elsewhere, clean the apartment; otherwise let the landlord take care of it. – supercat Apr 25 '18 at 17:18
  • 1
    @Jennifer, How do you know this? "Legally, you are bound to do the repairs," Do you even know in which county and which city the asker is asking about? Did you even read the other answer? Why is your answer so different than the other answer? – Stephan Branczyk Apr 25 '18 at 22:53
  • Just because it's in the lease does mean it's legal. I'd be surprised if those conditions WERE legally binding in a lease. – Andy Apr 25 '18 at 23:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.