Category Archives: Landlord/Tenant

Security Deposits

by Alexx, staff attorney.

There are a few basic things to know about security deposits. The rules for them are found in the Arizona Residential Landlord Tenant Act.

A security deposit is money a tenant gives to a landlord to hold on to, to help motivate the tenant to honor their rent agreement and to help cover the landlord in case the tenant breaks the agreement. A security deposit is not the same thing as a pet deposit, a cleaning fee, or a redecorating fee.

WHAT CAN A LANDLORD CHARGE FOR SECURITY DEPOSITS?

The most a landlord can ask for in a security deposit is 1 and 1/2 month’s rent.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE SECURITY DEPOSIT AT THE END OF THE LEASE?

At the end of the lease, the landlord has 14 business days (so, not counting weekends and holidays) to return the tenant’s full security deposit OR whatever’s left of the security deposit after the landlord makes reasonable deductions to cover damages that are outside of the normal wear and tear that’s expected to happen over time. The deductions the landlord makes must be in writing and must be itemized. In other words, the landlord has to write out a list of the damages and charges. For example:

Total Security Deposit- $1000.00.

  • Broken window pane–  $50.00 to replace glass
  • Burn marks and missing chunks of carpet– $200.00 to replace 20 carpet squares.
  • Plaster and drywall, labor and materials to fix giant person-sized hole in living room wall– $350.00

Deductions Taken Out- $600.00

Amount to Return to Tenant– $400.00

If the landlord hangs on to the security deposit without providing a written explanation of deductions, the landlord can be liable for double the amount that the landlord should have given back.

So if a tenant provides a $1000.00 security deposit and is eligible to get it all returned to her but the landlord wrongfully holds on to it and doesn’t provide the explanation for why, the tenant can recover the $1000.00 PLUS $2000.00 in damages for a total of $3000.00.

In the scenario above where there was damage to the rental, the tenant was still eligible to get back $400.00. If the landlord fails to give that back, the tenant can recover the $400.00 plus $800.00 for a total of $1200.00.

While it sounds simple, it’s not necessarily an easy process. If you’re having a hard time struggling over the security deposits, you may want to speak to an attorney who can help you.

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Moving in to a Rental Home

By Alexx, staff attorney

‘Tis the season for moving, if you live in a town or city with a significant number of college students. In Tucson, home of the University of Arizona, nearly 4/5 of U of A students live off campus in the neighborhoods surrounding the university. Even if you’re not a student, you might find that there are a lot of deals to be had for fabulous rental homes or apartments this time of year.

Whatever the reason and whatever the season, it’s a good idea to be prepared going in to a move.

Rule of the day:  Know what you’re moving into.

You may have found the brand new spacious home on the outskirts of town or a charming duplex built that still sports its 1940s charm. Whatever the type or condition of the home, it’s important to understand what your new rental comes with, what you’re responsible for fixing or maintaining, and what happens if something goes wrong.

The two biggest tools in your move-in tool box are going to be a move-in inspection or assessment sheet and photos, lots of photos.

The purpose of the inspection and photos is to document the condition of the property as it was when you started to live there. It gives you and the owners a way to keep track of what damage, if any, is caused to the property while you live there. Without an inspection, tenants and owners have no documentation to make their case for who is responsible for damage that shows up at the end of the lease.

The Move-In Inspection or Assessment

Some landlords/property management companies will conduct a move-in inspection with you. During the inspection, the landlord or staff member will walk through the property after you’ve signed your lease and note the condition of the house as it is before or just after  you move in. Usually there is a sheet or log book, something in which the inspector can make notes about anything that’s already in disrepair.

Tips:

1) Ask to present during the move-in inspection (or ask to have one if it’s not normal procedure).

2) If your landlord doesn’t use a log or inspection sheet, bring your own. There are examples all over the web or you can make your own.

3) Spend some time filling out the inspection sheet. Keep a copy for yourself and send the sheet and photos off to your landlord.

Photos

There’s a reason the cliche “a picture’s worth a thousand words” has stuck around so long. In situations like a move-in, it’s true.
You could write down on your move-in assessment sheet that the floor is dirty and the baseboard is missing, but following that up with a photo really drives the point home.

You really can’t take too many photos.

All in all, the point of being alert and doing your homework is to make sure that your understanding of what you’re moving into matches your landlord’s.

A little bit of work when you move in can help you make sure that you get your security deposit back at the end of your stay.

But wait- What happens if you’ve already moved in and haven’t done any of the steps above?

Do them now.

Documenting the condition of your home within a few weeks of your move-in is certainly better than having no proof that it was ever in good condition. Start now.

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Property Managment Companies- The Good, The Not So Good and The Just Plain Ole’ Bad

By Alexx, staff attorney and Barry, owner/partner

Chances are good that if you’ve lived in a rental property or have rented out a property, you’ve had some interaction with a property management company. Maybe you’ve just seen their ads promising hassle free management for homeowners and easy living for tenants. Most of them advertise they increase harmony and peace of mind for everyone involved by putting good tenants in good homes owned by good homeowners. Every company is different but there are some basic features common to most of them, and not all of them are pretty. In essence, property management companies are the middlemen between tenants renting the home and the owners of the home and that has both pros and cons.

Property management companies, like most other private businesses, have to make a profit in order stay in business. They tend to make their profit by taking a percentage of the rental income paid by the tenants to the owners. Many also charge a monthly fee to the owners and bill the owners for any major repairs that the property needs either before or during a tenancy. In exchange, the company acts as a landlord to the tenants. Tenants pay their rent and submit work requests to the company. The company either has its own maintenance staff or contracts with crews to respond to tenant requests and maintain the property in good order.

The Pros for Homeowners

When the company is actually good at management, it can be a match made in heaven. Sometimes homeowners have no experience in the business of being a landlord. Maybe they live out-of-town or out-of-state.  In today’s market, many homeowners are renting out their own home or another property hoping to make some income and hold on to the property until they’re able to sell it when the housing market improves. Whatever the reason, many homeowners appreciate that the company takes all the dirty work out of renting out the property. They rather enjoy that it’s the company and not the owner who’s getting the middle of the night broken air conditioning or burst pipes calls, especially if the homeowner has several investment properties.

The company takes care of the advertising and screens tenants according to the owners’ specifications. For instance, while city codes or other ordinances might permit pit bulls as pets, the homeowner might not and so the property management company will tell the prospective tenants, “Sorry, not pit bulls allowed.”

The Pros for Renters

There’s nothing more frustrating than having a serious maintenance concern, like say, a water pipe bursts in your backyard and water is gushing everywhere, and not being able to get in touch with someone who can help you. Property management companies are supposed to give you a local, experienced contact in the community where you live so that when these problems arise, you can get a fast response. It keeps your frustration down and keeps the property in good shape. In theory.

The Cons for Homeowners

  • Fees: Fees can be unclear and increase without much notice, depending on the agreement the homeowner signs.
  • Gatekeeping: The company may do too good a job gatekeeping and keep the owner in the dark about important issues.
  • Price Gouging: The company may overinflate the price of services and labor used to maintain the property with little in the way of oversight.
  • Lax Standards: The company may not really check references or run credit checks and not follow the owner guidelines for renting to tenants.
  • Bad Workers: The company may hire shoddy or problematic workers, leaving the homeowner vulnerable to legal problems.
  • Commissions: The company may also seek kickbacks or fees if the homeowner tries to sell the property without involving the company.

The Cons for Tenants

The same cons that apply for homeowners also have a flip side for tenants, though most tenant complaints usually relate to the feeling of having to go through a tedious bureaucracy to accomplish anything.

  • Fees: Tenants may be asked to pay additional fees on top of fees the owners pay with neither being the wiser.
  • Too busy: The company usually oversees dozens if not hundreds of properties and may not be able or willing to dedicate attention to any one property.
  • Gatekeeping: Most of the time, the property company keeps the owners’ information confidential so the tenants can’t contact the owners directly when they have concerns.
  • Problematic standards: The company may engage in problematic screening practices just shy of illicit and blame it on the owners’ preferences, regardless of the truth.
  • Bad practices: The company may improperly start eviction proceedings or violate the state’s Landlord/Tenant act and subject the tenant to added expenses and legal trouble.
  • Commissions: The company may stand in the way of the tenant and owner striking a deal to purchase the property.

How to Handle Property Management Companies

If you’re a homeowner:

  • Be sure to do your homework before contracting with a company.
  • Check their references.
  • Ask other homeowners for information.
  • Read your agreement thoroughly, really really read it.
  • Don’t be bullied into signing something you don’t understand just to get started more quickly. Protect yourself from legal liability from the very beginning. If you hire a shady company that you knew or should have known was up to no good, you can open yourself up to all kinds of legal problems down the road.
  • Consider having your lawyer look over the proposed agreement to see if the company is trying to skirt the rules.

If you’re a renter:

  • Do your homework before moving into a home with a property management company.
  • See if you can talk to other tenants to find out what they think about the company.
  • Think of the company as your landlord and remember they have to abide by the landlord/tenant laws in your state.
  • Read the lease. No, really, read it. In the event of future problems, your rights are affected primarily by what the lease says. If there is something that does not sound right or that you don’t understand, ask for an explanation before signing. Even the best rentals can be nightmares if you get into a disagreement with the management company. Protect yourself at the beginning and avoid unpleasant surprises down the road.
  • Don’t be afraid to try to contact the owners if a problem arises that the company won’t fix.
  • And keep track of all of your interactions with the company in case trouble pops up later.

For everyone:

  • Most importantly, get everything in writing. Oral agreements are easily forgotten. If the company tells you they will have something fixed or will make some change to your agreement, ask them to send you a confirming e-mail. Same with any rent concessions or any sort of  reimbursements.
  • Many disputes start with “They told me this and didn’t follow through.”

 

Most property management companies have legal counsel or advisors to help them deal with problems as they come up.

If you run into trouble that you can’t resolve on your own, contact a lawyer for help. Many lawyers offer free consultations and evaluations.

At our office, consultations are always free and we can tell you whether or not you need to hire an attorney or if there are steps you can take to resolve the problem on your own.

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