Question: My husband and I were renting a townhouse and we put more than $4,000 in renovations into the home. We put in new hardwood floors, new appliances, paint, tile backsplash, new light and plumbing fixtures, etc. These are significant improvements that greatly improved the value of this property. We didn’t discuss this with the landlord in advance, but she did agree to reimburse us when we left, but only for $937.50. Now we have moved out and our landlord is dragging her feet on returning the security deposit. After all the improvements made to increase the value of the property, aren’t we entitled to our security deposit being returned promptly?

Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:

You are entitled to the return of your security deposit less deductions for cleaning and the cost of repairs for damages caused by use in excess of normal wear and tear. You should receive any refund along with an accounting, or at least an estimate, of anticipated repair work to be done within the timeframe required by law. In your case, you apparently performed a valuable service by making significant property improvements for the landlord at only about one-quarter the value of those renovations. Generally, you are free to make such agreements to perform renovations or repairs for a specified compensation, as long as they do not violate any employment or licensing laws. If the compensation you received was in the amount you agreed upon, it does not really matter that the landlord got the better of the deal. A deal is a deal. The great benefit received by your landlord in these renovations does not affect the deposit disposition. You have the same security deposit rights as if no such renovations had been performed. It looks like you learned an expensive lesson. Next time make sure you have a written agreement before making improvements to the landlord’s property.

Question: What is the lifespan of interior carpet in a rental unit? Is there any timeline for replacement by a landlord? Does it matter whether the carpet is dangerous or simply old and ugly?

Property Manager Griswold replies:

Yes, it does matter whether the carpet is a health and safety issue or if the concern is merely cosmetic. Carpet life is a function of the quality of the carpet, the quality of the padding, and the wear and tear it experiences. Typical apartment-grade carpet will last from five to 10 years. Landlords are only required to replace the carpet when it is a health and safety concern. For example, if the carpet is so thin the tack strip comes through or the backing is separating from the knap, then the landlord is obligated to replace the carpet. If the carpet is in good condition but outdated from an aesthetic point of view, then the landlord is not required to replace the carpet. However, I would advise your landlord to seriously consider doing so if you are a tenant they would like to keep. You may want to offer to sign a new long-term lease in exchange for new carpet, and even consider offering to pay a little more rent, i.e. $25 per month, if the carpet means that much to you.

Question: I am a graduate student living in a one-bedroom apartment and I want to move. There’s too much noise, bad neighbors, and the building is not good, especially because of the lack of soundproofing between the adjoining apartments. The landlords told me I could move out as long as I found someone to take over the rest of the lease. I found someone to do so, but now my landlords are not allowing anyone to take over my lease because it is prohibited in the contract I signed. Why did my landlords say I could? What happens if I sublease without telling them?

Property Manager Griswold replies:

Your landlords do not legally have to allow a sublease. It sounds as if they were considering it but apparently changed their minds. Even if they did allow you to sublease, it would only be to a tenant that they had approved. A landlord is not going to let a responsible tenant off of a lease without making sure that the new tenant is qualified. If you sublease without telling them, then you are fully responsible for any and all damage or unpaid rent due to your subtenant. In this situation, you had better check out any proposed subtenant very carefully. If any rent is unpaid, or any damage occurs (even if no one admits to it) during your subtenant’s tenancy, then you are the one the landlords will go after.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies” and co-author of “Real Estate Investing for Dummies,” and San Diego attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant’s Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords.”

E-mail your questions to Rental Q&A at

Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.


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