Tenant Resource Center: New consumer protections for tenants’ security deposits

Contact: Anders Zanichkowsky, 413-687-8486

It’s a good racket: Put a clause in the lease saying tenants have to pay for professional carpet cleaning and, if they don’t, you keep $200 of the money you already have in hand: Their security deposit. Multiply this by several hundred units, and… you get the idea.

Well, in November 2015, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection further clarified the regulations against illegal security deposit charges for routine carpet cleaning, carpet replacement, and painting. There are now even fewer ways for landlords to get around the laws – no matter what they put in the lease!

No matter what the tenant signed, a landlord cannot deduct from the security deposit for carpets or paint unless the tenant caused “unusual abuse” beyond normal wear and tear. All pre-payments are considered part of the security deposit.

All a landlord can do is bill a tenant separately if they signed a lease saying they would pay for carpet cleaning, and they don’t. Bottom line: Landlords cannot deduct from a security deposit for normal wear and tear. What about “unusual abuse”? The landlord still has to be able to prove this, and that the charges reflect real, necessary costs. For example, they can be required to factor in depreciation, and if they re-do a whole room for one area of damage, to show that a less expensive repair wasn’t enough.

While landlords can write leases requiring tenants to pay for carpet cleaning, the new notes in ATCP 134 still prevent the landlord from deducting for routine cleaning or normal wear and tear from the security deposit – and all prepayments are considered part of the security deposit. It is usually not practical for a landlord to pursue a separate money issue of a few hundred dollars. Unfortunately for them, DATCP prevents them making this easier by skimming off the top of every deposit. ATCP 134.06(3)(c)

That said, tenant rights are meaningless if they don’t use them! Luckily, Consumer Protection regulations let the tenant sue a landlord for double the charges wrongfully withheld, plus court costs and reasonable attorneys fees – though you don’t need a lawyer, and many people represent themselves, if it even goes to court – the threat of double the consequences has a way of making negotiations go a little smoother.

For FORMS, SAMPLE LETTERS, and INFORMATION, including WALK-IN COUNSELING:

Website: www.tenantresourcecenter.org   E-mail: [email protected]org Phone: (608) 257-0006

Main Office: 1202 Williamson Street (9am – 6pm, MondayFriday)

UW Campus: 333 E. Campus Mall, Room 3156 Hours: Mon/Tue 1:30-6, Wed/Thur 9-5

MOVING WEEKEND: Saturday 8/13 and Sunday 8/14 2-5