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Tenant-landlord dispute ended up with CA, sent a DV, received a response - need help with my next response.


sen2
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First of all, I thank all of you for posting a wealth of information here.

I searched around this forum I didn't seem to find an answer to my specific situation. The amount the landlord claimed was $1325. I was ready to settle with $935. The landlord did not agree and it ended up with a CA, a law firm in San Diego (Kimball, Tirey & St. John LLP). I have a credit monitoring service, looks like it is not yet reported to my credit file.

Let me give a little background (Sorry, if this is too long. I try to be as concise as possible)

I rented a two BR apartment last year signing a 7 months lease (a small city near San Diego). I had to vacate after completing 6 months of lease term, because, we bought a new house. I vacated the apartment, cleaned up everything and returned the keys in a month advance before the lease ended (30-day notice was given on 12/29/12, vacated on 1/31/13 and the lease ended by 02/28/13). I promised to pay the last month's rent however. The apartment was left clean without any damages.

After a month and half later (received sometime around 3/11/13), I received a final statement (prepared on 3/8/13) from the landlord. Not to be surprised, the statement claimed some cleaning charges (carpet, kitchen counter resurfacing and touchup paint etc. There was no claim of damages/replacement on appliances or windows however). The charges totaled more than the deposit, plus a $50 penalty for the late payment of last month's rent, eventually, the landlord tried to take my entire deposit. (last month's rent was not paid due to a bill-payer issue, which I came to know a bit late and decided to settle when I receive the final statement).

My correspondences with landlord went like this:
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My letter #1: I wrote a letter explaining why the last month's rent was not paid on time and disputing all the cleaning charges. I asked for proof why they needed all the cleaning in the first place and the receipts for the cleaning charges. I also sent a check for a final payment offering $100 for cleaning, which I thought was appropriate (last month's rent - deposit + $100 for cleaning = $935).

Landlord: After receiving my letter, I got a call on my cell and a voice message to talk about my letter. I did not want to engage a phone conversation, so, I did not return the call. After a week, I received a letter from the landlord demanding a full payment in the form of money order or banker's check. My check was returned as well (I guess, this was due to sentence in the letter stating cashing this means full and final payment).

My letter #2: "There were no compelling evidences sent to prove the cleaning was necessary and I refuse to pay those charges. I would like to settle if you are willing to negotiate"

Landlord: Couple of phone calls and a voice message. A letter received a week later. This was a ‘collection agency style letter’ with a title "In-house collection letter -1". The letter stated, "Negative remarks will be made in your credit history. Send a payment within a week or call our office".

My letter #3: "In good faith and fair dealing, I would like settle this. This is my last letter, I will not respond to any of your letter unless you make a counter offer. Any harassment in the form of collection letter will be legally challenged"

Landlord: A phone call and a voice message. A month later, another CA format letter with a title "In-house collection letter -2". Another letter arrived a month later with a subject "In-house collection letter -3", demanding full payment or call within 2 days.
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I did not respond to any of the phone calls since, I did not want to engage in a phone conversation. And, I did not respond to those last two letters as well.

Now, this dispute ended up with the law firm mentioned above, which sent out a letter last month. I responded with a DV using the format found on this site. I asked for proof why they needed all the cleaning and the receipts for the cleaning charges.

I received a response last week demanding a full payment with two of the receipts attached for the cleaning charges (no evidences to prove why the cleaning was needed). The receipts seemed bogus, because, both of them don't have a verifiable business name/addresses. One of them have a PO box, a cell and a fax number, claimed services for "Kit counter top zoletune" - $140 (honestly, I have no clue what it is for). The other one doesn't have anything other than the address of the landlord, couple of entries about "steam cleaning" & "deodorize" - $50 and "odor treatment" - $150 (we never had a pet, don't know why the odor treatment was necessary). The receipt also mentions about another apartment (as if the cleaning was done in two apartments). Both receipts had different dates but dated after my final statement was sent out (3/11 and 3/20).

When I did some research on this site, I found that, as per California law, return of deposit or an itemized statement should be mailed within 21 days after a tenant vacates the apartment (not after the lease expires), which the landlord clearly violated in my belief (since, I received the final statement after 35 days, no communication before that).

Here are my questions:
1. What would be the appropriate response to CA right now? (I would like to settle this matter with a smaller amount, as low as possible because of all the frustration I am going thru).  
2. If this dispute ends up in court, do I have to prove that I left the apartment clean when I vacated? (I don't have much of evidences. I took couple of pictures of the refrigerator & stove. There were no claims on them anyway)
3. Can I cite '21-day' violation in my response to come to a settlement? (I did not mention about this in my previous communication with the landlord, since, I was under the impression this applies from the date of lease expiration)
4. Is this violation a serious enough to claim damages (when I am the one owe money anyway)?

Your help is greatly appreciated (sorry for the long post).
 

 

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I think you're going to lose with all the cleaning charges.  If you can't prove it wasn't clean, I wouldn't waste any effort on this - that argument is going to go no where.  As a landlord myself, I know I always clean my houses no matter what condition they were left in.  

 

I don't understand the 21 day violation you're talking about.  

 

I would try and settle with the collection agency and see if they will take a lower offer.  If this winds up in court, you'll have to face that as well as having a collection on your credit report and that is going to hurt in the long run.  

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Check your renter laws for Cali. I know here in colorado it doesn't matter if the tenants trashed the place, if deposit is not returned within 30 days, or an itemized statement with receipts given to the former tenant, then the landlord is liable for 3 x the amount. And they are not allowed to apply security toward any rent either, you have to sue separately for that. California should have a statute on renter protection, I would study it.

If your laws are similar, you could take them to small claims for your security, and they would have to counter sue for any back rent. Might be worth the risk, I do know Cali has some strict laws from back when we lived there, my dad had several rentals.

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Your laws are a little different, but it says if itemized statement is not given within the 21 days, or within 14 days after the work was done, he may lose the right to keep any security. There is also some references you can go to for mediation by a 3 rd party. Read pages 53 to like 65. http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/landlordbook/catenant.pdf

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I don't understand the 21 day violation you're talking about.  

 

This is similar to the 30-day period in CO that shellieh98 mentioned.

 

I did some reading on that about California. Here, the landlord has to return the deposit or send an itemized statement within 21-days. It is same as CO, AZ the landloard cannot claim for wear and tear. In my case, I did not receive the statement within 21-days after vacating the place.

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Your laws are a little different, but it says if itemized statement is not given within the 21 days, or within 14 days after the work was done, he may lose the right to keep any security. There is also some references you can go to for mediation by a 3 rd party. Read pages 53 to like 65. http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/landlordbook/catenant.pdf

Thank you shellieh98. I will read thru that document. The itemized statement did not arrive within 21-days and the receipts that received from the CA dated after the itemized statement was sent.

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@sen2 - it sounds like you are in the right, but do you really want this to go all the way to court?  

I really don't want to go that far. I am wondering if I mention this in my next response in a 'legal' way, wouldn't it bring the CA to lower my debt? Please help with wording that I can use in my response.

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My experience with handling debts with CAs who take landlord owes has been very negative.  In my last dispute (several years ago), I moved out of a place at the end of my lease, had a release from the manager stating the place was clean and pictures of it.

 

The company claimed that I was responsible for carpet replacement because the place had no carpet when I moved out.  The reason it had no carpet? One of the sewage drains outside the unit had backed up on 6 separate occasions, flooding my apartment with human waste.  I even had the news articles and complaints filed about it.

 

I submitted all of that to the CA, landlord said it was a lie, CA continued collection. 

 

Call the CA and see what happens.  The worst that can happen is that they do not agree, and you are back where you started.  Also, find out about who you have been dealing with at the management company.  If they have a higher up, an appeal up the chain of command may help you out.  Also, their main "threat" is that you can't rent anywhere else until this is settled.  Mention to them that you purchased a home and that will help take some of the wind out of their sails.

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A former tenant cannot be held responsible for normal wear and tear. Touch up painting is expected. Replacing carpet is expected, a court will determine what the carpet is worth depending on the age of the carpet. Resurfacing cabinet tops is normal wear and an elected repair.

 

All the landlord is doing is trying to make some money on a former tenant, it happens all the time. Next time you rent you fill out a move in move out paper and have the landlord sign it. If the landlord did not send you the required papers in the time limit you are not responsible. It has to do with equity laws....he who seeks equity must do equity. Laches and equitable estoppel comes into play if things are not performed in a timely manner.

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