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The Statement

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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Declaration of the rights of tenants

BY JESSICA VOSGERCHIAN AND SAM WAINWRIGHT
Magazine Staff Writers
Published October 27, 2009

This is crucial, because doing so obligates your landlord to provide an itemized bill listing damages and the cost of repairs.

You also don’t want to risk your security deposit notice getting lost in the mail for a few days — you only have seven days after your landlord sends your security deposit to dispute claims by mail.

But your landlord is also under deadline. If you haven’t received your security deposit within 30 days of moving out, your landlord is obligated to return the full amount and bill you later.

Let’s say you did provide your forwarding address, you get the itemized bill and oddly enough, you disagree with your landlord’s assessment of the damages: you don’t think it costs $200 to clean a piece of gum off the carpet or that those scuffs on the couch qualify as anything more than normal wear and tear.

You also want to consider the worth of the original item and the cost the landlord cited for repairing or replacing it. Even if you did break a rickety old table during a kegger, you don’t have to pay for a spanking new one — you only owe the value of the table that broke.

After you object to the damages claimed, your landlord then has the option to kindly return your security deposit in full, cordially negotiate a different amount or take you to court.

Your landlord has 45 days to initiate a lawsuit or return your deposit in full. If 45 days pass and you are neither a defendant nor reunited with your money, you have the right to counter-sue for double damages, or twice the amount of your security deposit. You can actually stand to make money on the whole inconvenience.

If your landlord does sue, make sure that you remembered to fill out that initial inventory checklist with obnoxious attention to detail, because this is when it becomes important. It is your primary document to dispute the claims, but to win a case in small claims court, you’re likely going to want stronger evidence.

Rosen, the Student Legal Services attorney, said that the magistrate for small claims court in Ann Arbor is generally fair with students. But to avoid being judged as just a student challenging a legitimate adult, photograph the condition of the residence and record your interactions with your landlord as much as possible.

“The more you have documented the problem, the less the judge has to make it just a credibility decision between you and the landlord,” Rosen said.

Exhaustively document the state of the house when you move in and when you move out. That way, an objective judge can determine the cost of damages or accept your claim that the wine stain was there before you moved in.

You’ll also want to consult Student Legal Services — you have been paying a legal fee as part of your tuition, so you might as well get some of your money’s worth.

A good way to prevent things from escalating to legal action, though, is requesting that your landlord inspect your apartment before you move out. After you and your roommates have dutifully cleaned and repaired the apartment, invite your landlord to look over the place and give you a thumbs up or at least an indication of any possible concerns. While not legally binding, this can be a good way to not only preempt possible claims but also let your landlord know you’re paying attention and would not be a good candidate for exploitation.