Question: My last landlord withheld $250 of a $1,000 deposit for carpet cleaning and replacement of irrigation sprinkler heads. I believe this is normal maintenance. We vacuumed and cleaned the house well and thought that things such as carpet shampooing were the responsibility of the landlord.
As for the irrigation sprinkler heads, they were all working when we left; however, the house was vacant for a while before the landlord re-rented it. Do we have recourse or are we being picky?
Attorney Ted Smith replies:
Let me first remind you that California landlords have every right to deduct refurbishing and cleaning costs from your security deposit before returning the balance to you.
As to the carpet, it appears that you thought vacuuming was good enough. Apparently, your landlord disagreed. As a result, the landlord was required to take the carpet cleaning to the next level--shampooing.
Under these circumstances, the shampooing expense is not a normal maintenance item to be absorbed by the landlord--its cost may be lawfully taken from the deposit so long as it was reasonably necessary.
The sprinkler head deductions are a tougher problem. If they were working after you moved out, then I would agree that you should not have been charged for installation of the new sprinkler heads. Ask your landlord for the return of this portion of your security deposit.
Attorney Steven R. Kellman replies:
Generally, when you vacate a rental, you must take the dirt out that you brought in. In this case, that means shampooing the carpet because vacuuming is not enough to really clean a carpet. I do not believe that dirt is "normal use" or "ordinary wear and tear."
Many tenants do not shampoo the carpet because it is old and they feel it will not come clean anyway. This would be a mistake.
Sometimes based on normal use, the carpet suffers greater wear on high-traffic areas and the carpet will simply not be restored to its original condition regardless of any cleaning effort. Older carpet may not come clean either. Therefore, you need only do a basic shampooing to satisfy the law.
As to the sprinkler system, if it functioned normally when you moved out, any damage which occurred when the house was vacant is not your fault. Irrigation systems commonly need routine replacement of sprinkler heads. Your landlord may simply be trying to make you pay for the routine maintenance for which she is responsible, not you.
Fate of Deposit When Ownership Transfers
Q: I have a lease that will expire in five months. If my landlord sells the house before my lease expires, what is his liability concerning my $1,200 security deposit? When and how do I get the deposit back?
Property manager Robert Griswold replies:
Under the California Civil Code, it is the responsibility of your current landlord to provide you with written notification of the transfer of your security deposit to the new owner (including their name and address and the amount of the deposit). Of course, your new landlord will then be responsible to you for the disposition of that deposit when you ultimately leave.
This situation is a further reminder of the importance for the tenant to accurately document the condition of the rental upon move-in. Unfortunately, many tenants whose tenancy bridges two owners are shocked when they incur deductions to their security deposit for damages beyond ordinary wear and tear. This happens when the original landlord fails to tell the new landlord about legitimate problems with the unit and the new landlord charges you for the damage.
Smith replies: When selling a rental property, there are two options for landlords when dealing with the security deposit:
* Transfer and notice.
The selling landlord may include the security deposit as part of the property sale to the buyer. The seller transfers the deposit to the buyer and the buyer assumes responsibility for it. The tenant must be notified in writing that (a) there has been a sale of the building; (b) what claims, if any, the seller is now making against the security; (c) the amount of the security deposit; and (d) the name, address and phone number of the buyer.
* Return of the security deposit.
The other option is for the selling landlord to return the deposit to the tenant before the close of escrow. This option is not used very often, since it leaves the buyer "bare," with no security deposit on account.
The selling landlord's written notice is delivered to the tenant and the buyer at the close of escrow. If the seller gives proper notice to tenant and buyer, the security deposit obligation then passes to the buyer, who becomes solely responsible for the deposit after the close of escrow. If the buyer fails to return the deposit after the tenant's lease expires, then the buyer is the one legally responsible for return of the security deposit.
If you have a question, send it to Rental Roundtable, Real Estate section, L.A. Times, 202 W. 1st St., L.A., CA 90012. Or you may e-mail them athttp://email@example.com.