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Richard, Lawyer
Category: Real Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 53721
Experience:  32 years of experience as lawyer in Texas. I'm also a Real Estate developer.
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I live in MD and rented out a town house for 2 years.

Customer Question

I live in MD and rented out a town house for 2 years. Landlord collected $4200 in rent as 2 months deposit. Now when I have vacated the house he returns only $1400 check and sends receipts for all the services he got on the house like house cleaning, painting , landscaping , gutter clean, duct clean etc. I am shocked and wanted to check if I can take him to court on this. He said they can provide before n after pictures. The house is 80's construction n was not in a great state originally either but we do not have any pics. Do I stand any chance if I decide to approach this legally. Please advise.
Submitted: 3 months ago.
Category: Real Estate Law
Expert:  Richard replied 3 months ago.

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Customer: replied 3 months ago.
Expert:  Richard replied 3 months ago.

Yes, you absolutely should file suit to recover your deposit. You can do this in small claims court without a lawyer for any claim up to $5,000. Your landlord does not get to simply unilaterally decide on this stuff. Everything you are mentioning is basically normal wear and tear and no portion of a deposit can be retained for normal wear and tear. Furthermore, the "useful life" concept further limits a tenant's liability. This applies to wall paint, carpet, appliances, floor finish, etc. I will use paint as an example. Even if damaged the paint other than normal wear and tear, which includes small nail holes) such that the damage caused would require the place to be repainted, you would still only obligated to pay for the cost of repainting times the remaining useful life of the paint job. Typically, painting in a rental unit would need to be refinished every couple of years. So, even if the place had been repainted immediately before you took occupancy, when you left after a year, there is no remaining useful life and thus you would owe nothing because you did nothing to shorten the useful life. So, file your suit. Once the suit is filed and a judgment awarded, you become a judgment creditor, and if the losing party doesn’t then pay the judgment, you can have the sheriff serve a summons on the landlord for a debtor examination. That forces the landlord to meet you in court and answer questions under oath about the his assets. After that information is obtained, the you have the power to garnish wages, attach bank accounts, have the sheriff seize other personal property, and/or place liens on any non-homestead property to satisfy the judgment.

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Customer: replied 3 months ago.
Difficulty in legal if going that route is as I said he has all the receipts. As per online suggestions:
"You need to be prepared to explain to the judge why the defendant’s argument is not valid. The court will set a trial date."
How can we have a rebuttal to receipts? We will need a lawyer n that can go the expensive route is my dilemma.
Expert:  Richard replied 3 months ago.

Thanks for following up. The receipts are not going to matter. The fact that you have lived there for 2 years and that the property is an older property is going to create a presumption that these costs are normal wear and tear and/or invalid under the useful life concept. In order to prevail, the landlord is going to have to produce not only these new receipts, but proof of when he actually last repaired or replaced the items for which you are being charged to show there was some useful life remaining.

Customer: replied 3 months ago.
Does the 'useful life' concept apply to MD state ?
Expert:  Richard replied 3 months ago.

Yes...I noticed that you were in MD and gave you information applicable to your state. :)

Customer: replied 3 months ago.
Is there a time limit by which I need to take legal action.?
Guess I should not encash the $1400 Check either.
Expert:  Richard replied 3 months ago.

I would not cash the check. You actually have several years to be able to file your suit, but the longer you wait, the more stale things become. I would file your suit as soon as you possibly can. And, just so you know: i) the laws are biased in favor of the tenant; and ii) in my experience, once the landlord is served with a summons that you are going to pursue this, the landlords tend to settle with you on terms satisfactory to the tenants rather than face the trial and the risk of punitive damages. :)

Customer: replied 3 months ago.
What do we lose or can things go against us if going to court?
Customer: replied 3 months ago.
As in for judgement goes against us will we be liable to anything more?
Expert:  Richard replied 3 months ago.

Good morning. will be no worse off.

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