Tenant fights fee for removing shabby carpet

Can landlord charge full replacement value?

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Q: I moved into my apartment eight years ago. At the time, the carpeting was in pretty bad shape with spots that wouldn’t clean or would come back after cleaning. By no means was it remotely "new," as it appears it was the original carpeting installed when the building was built about 12 years ago.

After about five years of my tenancy, the carpet was lifeless, matted and fraying at the seams. There were issues on the stairs that were unsafe. The landlord was pretty dismissive of all repair projects, so I decided to remove the carpet and paint the floors.

Then recently, out of the blue, my landlord had an "annual inspection" for the first time in eight years and he noted the carpet was gone. He said I’ve cost him $800 and I would have to pay for replacing the carpet when I moved out. My contention is I saved him a lot of money by removing it at my cost!

I think I am a pretty good tenant, but you should know that I have been late with rent in the past. But I have a payment plan in place and am repaying back rent.

My concern is that he is charging me money to replace the carpet. I don’t think I should have to. He would have had to replace this carpet if I ever moved out.

Also, the dishwasher broke a while back and when I asked him to fix it, he said, "When you repay back rent, I’ll do something about it." This was one of the amenities of the rental and now I don’t have use of it. Shouldn’t he have to fix it or lower the rent?

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A: You have several issues here. First, the carpet does have a reasonable life and 10-12 years would certainly be about the most anyone could expect out of a typical apartment-grade carpet even with modest use and the best care. So I think your landlord needs to back off on the demand for the full replacement value of the carpet.

You correctly point out that the old carpet and pad would have to be removed and replaced before renting to a new tenant, and while the fact that you have already removed the carpet won’t likely save your landlord any money, it certainly won’t cost him much. In other words, the removal savings are offset by the fact that new tack strip will have to be installed.

The issue with the dishwasher not working and your landlord refusing to fix it or replace it until you pay the full back rent is a concern. You are correct again that the dishwasher was a feature or amenity of the rental unit when you moved in and the landlord needs to have someone out to look at it and either repair or replace it.

Q: You recently responded to a question about a roommate situation in which one of the roommates simply left over the weekend and the remaining roommate was stuck paying the full amount of the rent until he could find a new roommate that the landlord would approve.

This happened to me when my ex-girlfriend abandoned me and the lease, refusing to pay her half of the rent. I paid my half to the landlord to keep in good graces with him, but that is all I can afford. The landlord seems to be on my side, so my question is this: Can the landlord go after my ex instead of me for the defaulted balance, costs, etc., associated with her abandoning the lease?

I ask because I understand the landlord is entitled to and will get the unpaid or lost rent as well as damages to re-rent the property due to this breach of contract. I understand he can go after me or my security deposit if he wants. However, if the landlord wishes to just pursue the "guilty" party, is it possible for him to sue and collect from that party alone in any way?

A: As you seem to clearly understand, you and your roommate are "joint and severally" responsible for the full amount of the lease as well as all of the other terms such as damage. This legal language essentially means that you are both (joint) and individually (think of severe as in separately) obligated for all the legal and financial aspects of your lease.

Yes, your landlord could choose to understand your situation in which your roommate suddenly abandoned the rental unit and left you responsible for the full amount of the rent. He could decide that you are not responsible for the "other half" of the rent. There is no legal restriction other than a landlord needs to be cognizant of fair housing laws and not allow some tenants grace while punishing others.

However, in my 30-plus years of experience, not too many landlords are willing to agree that a roommate paying "his half" is not obligated for the full rental value. Most landlords have mortgages and need the full rental income to cover their ownership and operating expenses. So, if your landlord is willing to make an exception for you, I’d say you are a very lucky person and have a great landlord.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of "Property Management for Dummies" and "Property Management Kit for Dummies" and co-author of "Real Estate Investing for Dummies."

Email your questions to Rental Q&A at rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com. Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

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