Security Deposits: A Practical Primer
People often have questions about things that are relevant to their jobs or lives. For landlords, a usual topic of conversation is security deposits. Previously, legal standards and procedures regarding landlords keeping security deposits was covered, but what do these rules mean in ordinary terms? The following are a few good tips for every landlord, a little bit of good advice in the right place often makes all the difference. But if you really want to get on the ball, save the most money, and protect yourself and your business, call an experienced attorney at Baron Law.
Be Upfront with the Tenant, Give them a Move-Out Letter
All good things must come to an end, lease agreement and tenancies are no different. So, in order to save time, stress, and avoid disputes over security deposits, using move-out letters is a good move. Move-out letters are tangible notice to tenants that they are ending the tenancy, good proof of breach for later on, and makes sure all parties are on the same page.
At minimum, your move-out letters should tell the tenant how the property/unit should be left, whether it should be cleaned, etc., explain the procedures and timing for final inspection of the premises, include the itemized deductions from the security deposit, if any, tell the tenant to return keys, provide a forwarding address for the security deposit, and explain the details of how any monies will be returned.
Move-out letters should be standard operating procedure for every landlord. If you are having trouble drafting your own letter or want to ensure every important point is covered, hire an experienced Cleveland attorney to do your drafting.
Itemizing a Security Deposit Withholding/Deduction
A recognized rule in Ohio is that any security deposit withholding or deduction must be itemized. The logic of this requirement is to make landlords give specific reasons to tenants why the security deposit is being withheld so tenants have the necessary information to decide whether or not to chase after the deposit via legal means. (It’s only fair, and the law is all about fairness.)
So, you know to itemize, but how is it done and what does it look like? Again, common sense is a good rule of thumb. If any ordinary person saw your itemized calculation, could they make sense of it? At minimum, take the total amount of the deposit, and in a basic list, give the identity, value, and reason for each deduction. For example, the following was found insufficient by a court:
2-Times Mowing Yard $ 40.00
Wal-Mart $ 112.59
Rug Shampooer $ 29.66
Cleaning Lady $ 75.00
Schaedler v. Shinkle, No. CA99-09-025, 2000 WL 1283775 (Ohio App., 12th 2000). A court found this notice and itemization insufficient because it did not explain what the landlord had bought or why it was necessary. Though you must provide half-way decent information, the standards are not rigorous. A landlord may rely on estimates for local adverts if they are used honestly and in good faith.
When all else fails, Small Claims Court
Small claims court is the ever-present threat that makes tenants pay their rent on time. Landlords always have the option to pursue redress via the courts. Often theft, property damages, or amount of back rent, dwarfs the value of a withheld security deposit. Though a method is available, it doesn’t mean it is the best option. Good attorneys always counsel clients to pursue solutions without legal intervention. Expediency and cheapness is good for landlords and a small claims action is anything but.
In a nutshell, a small claims action flows in the following order:
1) legally actionable event,
2) collecting evidence,
3) filing a complaint,
4) serving a complaint,
5) waiting for trial date,
6) conducting a trial,
7) waiting for judgment, and
All through out this process there are attorney conversations, communications between tenant and landlord, collection of evidence, and waiting, the ever-present waiting for someone to respond.
There’s a lot of stuff going on and all of it costs time and money. This is where good legal counsel comes in. Best case scenario a stern phone call and demand letter from an attorney scares the other party into paying. If that works, awesome, problem solves. If it doesn’t, a good attorney will tell you the pro’s and con’s of going the lawsuit route. Sometimes, though a landlord feels slighted and hates a breaching tenant, the payoff just isn’t worth the going through the courts. At minimum, a lawsuit will take months, will probably require a landlord’s in court testimony, and to pay an attorney to appear in court and prosecute a case will eat a significant amount of money. Often the sign of a trustworthy attorney is one who tell you not to retain their services.
The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation.