Racking Up the Bills

It is again Thursday and time for another edition of the Dr. Rent Radio Show.  Earlier this week I finished my summary of my last show.  I apologize again for not having a show last week, some times real life just gets in the way.  However, I am back!

Tonight’s show is based on two questions that I received recently.  How can I fill an hour worth of air time on just two questions?  Well, these are quite complex questions with a large number of elements to them.  Questions that are part of the first larger question include:

How much notice does a tenant need to provide before moving out at the end of their lease?  What if the lease says how much notice a tenant must provide?

Can a landlord charge a tenant for cleaning if the apartment was left “filthy”?  Do those charges need to be itemized?

Can you bill a tenant for the total cost of replacing carpeting if, by the tenant’s own admission, their cat caused the damage to the carpet?

Can you charge a tenant who has vacated before the end of their lease re-renting fees?  And, if so, can these fees come out of a security deposit.

The second situation involves one of the same issues, the tenant giving notice to terminate a lease.  However, there are many other new elements in this situation, including…

Can a residential lease automatically renew on a year to year basis?

If the rental agreement continues beyond the end of a lease term, what are the terms of this holdover?

Is there a requirement for a landlord to have funds available to handle repairs that may come up?

Who is responsible for repairs that are small dollar value items?

The normal notice required on a month-to-month agreement is 28 days, is it legal to have some different notice requirement, such as 45 or 60 days?

Actually, this second situation is still developing, and there will probably be a question or two out of the Dr. Rent Program in two weeks.

Why two weeks?  Well, the first ever Dr. Rent Radio Show aired on June 1st, 2005.  That means, that my next program on June 2nd, 2011 will be my 6-year anniversary.  I have found my outline for that original show, and as an Anniversary Special, I plan on using that same outline for next week’s show, to see just how relevant that show was to today’s real estate situation.  What was the topic of that show six years ago?  Well I guess you will just have to wait until next Thursday’s blog post.

Last week we had a question that stumped Dr. Rent, so I had to get some legal opinions.  I asked three good friends who are attorneys, and they all provided similar responses.  I love it when I get similar answers, especially considering one of these attorneys primarily represents landlords, one primarily represents tenants, and one represents both.

The situation was that during the term of a rental agreement, the tenant would require repairs to the rental.  For sake of argument, we will say that the tenant does not dispute that these repairs were the tenant’s responsibility.  However, the tenant was never billed by the landlord for these repairs.  However, once the tenant vacated, when they got their security deposit statement, all of those repairs that occurred over the term of the agreement were listed.  So, is there an amount of time that a landlord needs to bill the tenant for repairs?  Or, can the landlord just keep holding them and bill them all at once at the end of the term, AND take them from the deposit.

I always tell people that I am not an attorney and I don’t give legal advice.  I give my personal opinions as they relate to landlord-tenant law and I always recommend consulting with an attorney.  I am also normally able to provide names of attorneys who I would recommend.  With this question, my gut told me that if the repairs were done were a tenant responsibility, and if the repairs were required because of damage, waste or neglect (the threshold for security deposit withholding), that it should be able to come out of a deposit, even if it was many months/years after the fact.  But, I had never come across this issue before so I wanted a second opinion… and a third.. and a fourth.

These were the answers I got when I inquired of some attorney-friends of mine who specialize in landlord-tenant issues.

Second Opinion:

There is not [a] time frame to get a bill to the Tenant.  Assuming the LL (Landlord) has great records of time involved and work performed, then … it is appropriate for the T (Tenant) to pay the LL for the repairs necessitated by T’s damage.


I think that [this applies to] any repair that does not go into the area of LL duties & responsibility under 704.  Remember the T must make minor repairs.


Third Opinion:


If the agreement was that the landlord would perform work and the tenant would pay for it, the tenant could argue that the agreement was a contract.  Contracts that cannot be completed … within a year must be in writing because of a legal rule called the Statute of Frauds.  If there was no written agreement, I would argue … that the agreement was voided by the landlord waiting too long to collect. … 


The above is assuming that the lease was silent on these issues, and there was no written documentation of anything until the tenant received a bill.


… The landlord could counter with the doctrine of promissory estoppel.  To do this, the landlord would have to prove there was a promise … that the landlord relied on to his detriment … and that justice could only be served by the tenant being forced to follow through on his end of the bargain (by paying for the repair).


I do not think these amounts could be deducted from the tenant’s deposit, as they aren’t “damage” found at the end of the lease.  The charges are for an additional service the landlord provided.


With all that being said…


If this [the tenant] was my client, and the charges were documented with evidence … and reasonable, I would probably tell them to let it go, and give the landlord a courtesy phone call telling them to bill as they do work in the future.


Finally, Fourth Opinion:

… The issue is not dealt with in the statutes, regulations or case law.  There are no guidelines.  So, I would resort to good ol’ common sense and the statute of limitations for breach of contract.  I am not aware of anything in the UCC (Uniform Commercial Code) that would be applicable to this.


My view is that there is no “statute of limitations” after which a L (Landlord) is precluded from holding a tenant responsible for damages caused by T (Tenant) other than the 6 year statute of limitations for breach of contract.


From a practical standpoint, there are several smaller damages that tenants are responsible for that … a court will not allow as a basis for eviction, so no need to 5 day them or 14 day them for the cost to repair – so the Landlord merely notes the cost and carries them through on the ledger until the end of tenancy and deducts from the security deposit.


I see nothing wrong with that.  If it was presented as a practical matter as such, I can’t see a court taking issue either.


It’s not like the tenant is absolved from responsibility for cost just because of the passage of time.  If a L has the right to sue a T up to 6 years after the breach, then as long as the deduction occurs within 6 years of the damages, I can’t see that being an issue. …


Now you can see why I recommend contacting an attorney.  Although all attorneys in the end gave the advice that the landlord deductions from the security deposit should stand, they all arrived at that answer from different paths.

The main topic from my last program was about earnest moneys and credit check fees.  However, instead of blogging about what I covered on my show, my good friend Attorney Tristan Pettit from the Milwaukeearea beat me to the punch and did a blog post on May 18th covering earnest moneys.  Instead of posting information that can easily be found on his blog, I just recommend checking out what he has to say on the issue here:  http://petriestocking.com/blog/

Remember, the Dr. Rent Radio Show can be heard most Thursdays, from 5 to 6 PM on WNRB-LP Radio, 93.3 FM in the Wausauarea.  You can also tune in from anywhere in the world over the internet by checking out the live stream broadcast at www.wausauhmong.org and clicking on the Hmong Radio link.

Until this evening… HAPPY RENTING!

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 Earnest Money, Questions, Security Deposit, WNRB and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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