Q: After my lease was up, I asked to move to a different apartment in the building. Management charged me a $200 fee for repainting and new carpeting. But I didn’t pay this fee when I initially moved in, and new tenants at this time don’t pay it either. Is this legal? –Judith M.

A: Management has charged you a "move-in fee," which is a one-time fee that’s intended to reimburse the landlord for costs associated with processing a new tenant. Typically, they include new keys, the value of management’s time spent processing the lease and introducing the tenant to the property, and so on.

It’s unusual to see such a fee include refurbishing costs, such as new paint and carpet. Normally, if a rental needs these due to abnormal use by the prior tenant, the landlord deducts the cost from the prior tenant’s security deposit. If the paint and carpet need to be refreshed due to normal wear and tear, the landlord simply does the work — this is known as upkeep, and while tenants indirectly pay it through their rent, they are not usually charged separately for normal upkeep.

Let’s assume that new paint and carpet are needed only because the old has run its course — normal wear and tear has resulted in the need to paint and recarpet. Your landlord is trying to avoid paying "the cost of doing business" by charging you separately for the expense. But this may not be legal, depending on the law of the state where you live.

California legislators, for example, got wise to this landlord ploy and amended the security deposit statute to require any upfront payments to be refundable, no matter what they were intended to cover (fees to run a credit check are exempted). The law specifically allows landlords and tenants to agree that the tenant will pay for alterations or improvements, but only if these are at the tenant’s request, and only if these improvements are not for repairs or cleaning for which the landlord could have charged the previous tenant. (Calif. Civil Code Section 1950.5.)

You’ll need to check your state’s security deposit statute to see whether your legislators have taken similar steps. If nonrefundable fees are allowed in your state, you may be out of luck.

Q: Is there any downside to sending notices to my tenants via email, and not bothering with a hard copy sent through the mail? It would make life a lot easier. –Jeff B.

A: It’s certainly tempting to do business with a keystroke. Under federal law, you’d be able to introduce the notice into court as evidence — a court would not automatically deny it simply because it was sent electronically. But that’s putting the cart before the horse — you might need to be able to prove that your tenant received the notice, and that’s something else entirely.

How do you counter the argument that the email "got sent to spam" or just never appeared? The only certain way to prove receipt is to use an expensive service, such as rpost.com, that allows you to send tamper-proof attachments and gives you reliable proof of receipt. This type of service won’t be economically feasible for landlords who send only a few notices a month.

Relying on text messages is even riskier. Evidence of receipt isn’t possible unless you undertake an exhaustive records search of the recipient’s service provider, something that would never be reasonable in a typical landlord-tenant dispute concerning notice of, say, a raise in the rent.

It’s far better to stick with a traditional mail delivery system. To be extra careful, mail your notice and do it "return receipt requested."

Show Comments Hide Comments


Sign up for Inman’s Morning Headlines
What you need to know to start your day with all the latest industry developments
By submitting your email address, you agree to receive marketing emails from Inman.
Thank you for subscribing to Morning Headlines.
Back to top
Log in
If you created your account with Google or Facebook
Don't have an account?
Forgot your password?
No Problem

Simply enter the email address you used to create your account and click "Reset Password". You will receive additional instructions via email.

Forgot your username? If so please contact customer support at (510) 658-9252

Password Reset Confirmation

Password Reset Instructions have been sent to

Subscribe to The Weekender
Get the week's leading headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Top headlines from around the real estate industry. Breaking news as it happens.
15 stories covering tech, special reports, video and opinion.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
It looks like you’re already a Select Member!
To subscribe to exclusive newsletters, visit your email preferences in the account settings.
Up-to-the-minute news and interviews in your inbox, ticket discounts for Inman events and more
1-Step CheckoutPay with a credit card
By continuing, you agree to Inman’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

You will be charged . Your subscription will automatically renew for on . For more details on our payment terms and how to cancel, click here.

Interested in a group subscription?
Finish setting up your subscription