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What's 'Normal Wear and Tear' on Old Carpet?

March 13, 1994|KEVIN POSTEMA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA), an apartment owners' service group

QUESTION: Since my house sold much quicker than anticipated, I am now renting a house on a temporary basis in the city of San Gabriel. I can foresee problems when I move out in about a year. In a few of your recent columns, you have referenced different aspects of "normal wear and tear," which is where I think the problems will occur.

The carpets in this house were stained and threadbare when we moved in. I tried to explain this to the landlord, but his English isn't real good so I'm not sure he understood. I think he'll give me problems with them when I move out. I am trying to remove the stains myself, but I don't know what to do about the carpet seams that are unraveling. How does "normal wear and tear" apply to such carpets? Can I be charged for added wear and tear to already worn-out carpets? When I move out, how can I prove what condition the carpets were in at the start of the tenancy?

ANSWER: Threadbare carpets would seem to be worn out and should have no normal wear and tear left in them. If the landlord wants to charge you to replace such carpets at the end of your tenancy, he will be unlikely to prevail in court if you are properly prepared. Before-and-after pictures showing no added wear to the carpets are great evidence in court, particularly if they're dated by the processor, as many are.

Also, a move-in/out checklist indicating the condition of a unit, including floors and floor coverings, is a great help in court. Such forms are generally furnished by the landlord or manager and reviewed by you simultaneously.

However, they are also available at some stationery stores, or you can develop your own. If the landlord is unwilling to go over it with you, you may note the condition of the unit and its amenities on the form and mail him a copy of it with a cover letter for his information. Also, if the carpet is so bad that it represents a safety hazard, and the owner won't at least fix it, you could call (818) 308-2806 and complain to the Department of Building and Safety in the city of San Gabriel.

According to Senior Building Inspector Sam Duggan, "The department would notify the owner of a potential hazard in the unit and inform (him) that he must eliminate the hazard."

The form, letter and pictures should go a long way toward proving your case if you are inappropriately charged by the landlord for replacing the carpet.

Can Security Deposit Be Held for Rent?

Q: I live in Pasadena and I have a question about my security deposit. In September, 1992, my fiance and I moved into a one-bedroom apartment paying a $100 non-refundable cleaning fee and a $575 security deposit. The rent was $575.

During April and May, 1993, my hours at work were cut because business was extremely slow and the company was losing money. I barely worked 35 hours per two-week pay period, creating an insufficient ability to pay my June rent.

Being unable to pay the full rent, I notified the apartment manager that I would relinquish the apartment by June 8, 1993. The manager explained to me that I automatically lost my entire security deposit since I did not give a 30-day notice of my intention to vacate.

I wanted to stay but couldn't afford it so I moved out to keep my credit record good. My question is, can't I get a prorated portion of my deposit back because it was my unforeseen job situation that caused the move?

A: Your employment situation does not affect your security deposit, but you may still be able to get some deposit money back. First, "non-refundable" cleaning fees for residential rentals have been outlawed for 15 years in the state of California. The owner is entitled to deduct only the actual costs for cleaning from a cleaning deposit.

If the owner's costs were less than the $100 fee he charged you, you are entitled to a prorated refund from the "non-refundable" cleaning fee.

Second, while you are liable for up to 30 days rent from the time you give notice to move under a month-to-month rental agreement, the owner cannot collect double rent if the unit is re-rented prior to that time. You do not lose the deposit "automatically."

If the owner did not re-rent the apartment before the expiration of your 30-day notice, and 30 days rent were due, he may keep your deposit, which equals 30 days rent in your case, to offset the unpaid rent, provided he made "reasonable efforts" to re-rent the unit.

If you owed less than 30 days rent when you gave notice or the unit was re-rented prior to the expiration of the notice, you are entitled to a prorated refund from the security deposit.

If I were you, I would first apprise the manager of the law and then ask if you have any deposit refund due based upon this new knowledge. If you aren't satisfied that you've been treated fairly after that, you may sue in Small Claims Court for any refund you may be due.

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