Q: I am a landlord with one rental house. I have a problem with damage done to the landscaping by the tenants who recently moved out. The rental contract states, "The tenants agree to care for and adequately water the lawn, shrubbery and trees." I have always paid the water bill and there was no noticeable change in the monthly amount so I was very disappointed when I met them for their move-out inspection to find they let the trees, shrubbery and grass die. This damage will amount to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in repairs before I can rent out the house again. Can the security deposit be applied to the damage done to the yard?
A: Based on the language you included in the rental agreement, I believe you have grounds for making reasonable deductions against the tenant’s security deposit as they clearly breached the terms by allowing the landscaping to die. Of course, determining what is proper maintenance for landscaping can be very subjective and you need to be fair in assessing the damage to the former tenants.
For example, if the grass can recover with watering it would be unreasonable to charge the tenant for resodding the entire yard. Hopefully you had pictures of the landscaping before the tenants moved in to establish the pre-move-in condition of the landscaping. Take pictures now to show that the damage occurred during the tenancy. This will be particularly helpful if the tenants go to small claims court to challenge your security deposit deductions.
Also, you should seek at least two or three bids for any replanting or other professional services. It is likely that getting these bids will take longer than the maximum time allowed to account for and refund any remaining balance of the tenant’s security deposit, so you should also contact the tenant in writing to let them know of any other deductions and exactly what your concerns are about the damage to the landscaping. Once you receive the bids, select the lowest bid that will do the work properly and send the former tenant the final accounting indicating the remaining balance due or amount owed.
Q: I am a concerned parent who has a 22-year-old son attending college out of the area. At the beginning of last semester, without my knowledge or approval, my son decided to give notice and move out of his college dormitory. He has rented an apartment near campus on a 12-month lease with some other students. I recently met his roommates and was unimpressed and do not like the environment that he is now living in. I want to know how I can break the lease and get him to move back on campus? His grades are slipping and I believe that he might even be suicidal. Is this justification to break the lease and get a full refund of his security deposit?
A: It would appear that your son has signed a legally binding lease and you cannot unilaterally break the lease without a breach by the landlord. Clearly, if you have concerns about his personal safety then you should take action as his parent regardless of his lease obligation or any concern about his security deposit. One idea is that if your son is truly suffering from a medical condition, you could contact an appropriate health care provider and see if they feel that your son must relocate for medical reasons under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
As a property manager, it has been my experience that generally there is no legal basis to break a lease due to a change in personal circumstances (bad grades, or incompatible or questionable roommates). The fact that your adult son did not get your permission is not grounds to argue that the landlord should break the lease. The landlord has every right to expect that your son will honor the provisions of the lease for the entire term. But, assuming your son agrees with your conclusion that he should move, your son should contact the landlord to discuss possible terms under which they would voluntarily release him from his legal obligation. He can also seek to find a replacement tenant to fulfill the balance of the lease as long as the landlord will approve the replacement roommate.
If your son is the only one vacating the rental unit, then the landlord would properly require that the security deposit remain in place as long as the other roommates have possession of the property. Then your son would have to make arrangements to handle any issues with the deposit internally with the new roommate or the remaining roommates.
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."
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