Where's My Security Deposit?

Here we go with blog post number three in as many days… don’t get used to this though folks. Fridays are normally pretty busy days. Plus, I have to prepare for a class I will be giving in Kenosha on Saturday, a class being put on by the police department who has started working together with rental property owners to address crime. The hope is that this model can be expanded to other Wisconsin cities.

But, it is Thursday and you had to know a blog post would be coming. Thursday evening, from 5-6 PM, is the Dr. Rent Radio Show on WNRB-LP, 93.3 on your FM radio dial (assuming you are in the greater Wausau area and the wind is blowing our 6 watt signal in your general direction). And, on Thursday mornings I try to do a blog post that gives you a quick glance at tonight’s show, and gives you a summary of what you missed last week.

Questions, Questions, Questions! This week has been full of questions, I probably have two weeks worth of radio shows. Normally I do questions then my main topic of the day, but doing it that way now, it will take weeks to get to my main topic. So, we will hit the main topic first. The Wausau Housing Task Force met again this week and the first issue on the table is landlord-tenant responsibilities. When should the inspections department be going after the property owner? When would it be more productive for the inspections department to be going after the occupant? That is our first item we are trying to work through. Details on this on tonight’s show. (The Housing Task Force will meet again the evening of September 7th.)

I am sure that I will not be able to get through all of these questions on tonight’s show, but here are some of the questions that have come up…

– Can a landlord make a rule about no smoking on the street or sidewalk in front of the rental property?
– What are my thoughts on letting tenants paint their units?
– What are my thoughts on getting a larger deposit because many tenants don’t pay their last month’s rent?
– A tenant was told by the bank foreclosing on the landlord they have to be out in a week, can the bank do that? What are the tenant’s rights in a landlord foreclosure?
– The tenant is generating a number of noise complaints, what is the best way to terminate their rental agreement?
– When a tenant is issued a 5-Day Notice and doesn’t comply, is the next step a 14-Day Notice?
– Can you issue a 14-Day Notice and file for eviction on the same day to save time?

See? A very full week for questions.

Last week, I handled a question from a tenant who moved out in mid-July and as of mid-August hadn’t received their deposit back. They wanted to know how long they had to wait before taking their landlord to court for the deposit (actually, double the deposit). Although the easy answer would have been 21 days, as that is how long the landlord has to return the deposit in Wisconsin, I had to play my own game of 20 questions in order to give an answer.

They moved in mid-July, and it is unusual for a lease to end mid-month. I have seen where they do, it is just not common so I had to ask when the lease actually ended. They indicated they were on a verbal month-to-month and gave verbal notice the beginning of July. Verbal… oh how I dislike anything verbal. Had they given written notice to the landlord very early in July, the contract end date would be July 31st, and the 21 days would start then. (Even though the rental agreement was verbal, under state law, notice to terminate it MUST be in writing.) If a tenant vacates the property before that lease end date, they can start that 21 day “clock” earlier by giving the landlord WRITTEN notice that they are OUT, that they have VACATED (past tense). Technically, because everything was verbal, the month notice didn’t technically start until the landlord knew the tenant was out… mid-July. This means that the move out notice was effective mid-August, and since most leases end the last day of the month, the tenant was technically under contract until August 31st. So, no only has the 21-Day clock not even started yet, if the landlord wanted to be a stickler about things, they can legally bill the tenant for August rent (if the landlord made a reasonable effort to re-rent the property).

The next question had two parts to it. The first part had to do with a landlord charging a tenant for new carpet. The landlord claims the tenant damaged the carpet to the point it had to be replaced, and the landlord then charged the tenant for that carpet. There is case law that allows the landlord to charge replacement cost. If the carpet originally cost $500 when it was put in, but a similar quality carpet today costs $800, landlords can use today’s costs. However, landlords do need to take into consideration how much use they already got out of the carpeting. If new carpeting was put in a rental unit, and after a few months, the tenant moves and damaged the carpet to the point it needed to be replaced, full replacement cost is reasonable. However, in this question, the tenant had been there 5 years, and the tenant believes the carpet was not new when they moved in. In this case, the landlord cannot charge for full replacement cost because they got many years of use out of the carpet. Exactly how many years of use did they lose can vary based on a number of factors. Personally, I use 10 years as my carpet life. If a carpet is 5 years old, I will charge the tenant ½ of the replacement cost. However, if the carpet is 12 years old, I will very seldom charge the tenant anything if it needs to be replaced.

I stated that there are a number of factors that play a role in the life of a carpet, and that leads me to the second half of the question. The tenant is disabled and uses a wheel chair. The landlord knew when renting to the tenant, that the tenant was in a wheel chair. The damage caused to the carpet was caused, allegedly, by the wheel chair. The question the tenant had, is in this case, would that not be considered normal wear and tear? My answer… maybe. To be honest, I don’t know if wheel chairs cause more wear to carpet than foot traffic, and if so, what kind of damage. I did let this tenant know that if they can get people who understand carpeting (retailers, installers, etc) to testify in court as to the changes in wear and tear caused by wheel chairs, that may be a valid defense.

Finally, a tenant was on a year to year lease that ended in May. The tenant had found a different place and moved without giving the landlord any advance notice. They turned in the keys at the end of May. The landlord is charging them for June rent because there was no notice.

As we talked about earlier, if this were a month-to-month agreement, that would be perfectly acceptable. But on a year-to-year agreement, that is probably not the case. A residential lease cannot automatically renew unless the landlord gave the tenant some kind of advance notice. Some leases will say that if the landlord and tenant don’t give any notice by a certain date (30 to 60 days before lease end), it will renew for another year, or maybe renew on a month-to-month basis. Other agreements will be for a set term, ending on a certain date but will have a requirement for a tenant to give 30 or 60 days notice if they are leaving. Those provisions are fine in non-residential leases, but in order to be enforceable in a residential lease, the landlord has to remind the tenant, IN WRITING, between 15 and 30 days before the deadline, that such deadline exists. If this reminder is done, the automatic renewal provision is valid. However, if there is no reminder notice, the landlord cannot hold the tenant to the automatic renewal.

That was last week’s show and based on my list of questions, this week’s show will be just as informative. I promise, no more blog posts this week… so until next week, HAPPY RENTING!

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About drrent

Wausau, Wisconsin Landlord, past president of the Wisconsin Apartment Association, Host of the Dr Rent Radio Show on WNRB-LP, 93.3 FM, Wausau, WI
This entry was posted in Automatic Renewals, Housing Task Force, Questions, Security Deposit, WNRB and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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