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Lucy, Esq.
Lucy, Esq., Attorney
Category: Landlord-Tenant
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Experience:  Attorney
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Pearl, Chattanooga tn, No, My daughter and two room mates

This answer was rated:

JA: What state are you in? It matters because laws vary by location.
Customer: Chattanooga tn
JA: Has anything been filed or reported?
Customer: No
JA: Anything else you want the lawyer to know before I connect you?
Customer: My daughter and two room mates rented an apt while in college. Lease ended 7/31/16 and apt was vacated. More than 30 days later, 10/10/16, we received a letter stating that the $500.00 security deposit was not being refunded due to violating pet policy (true) and in addition there were over $1700 in repairs. We dispute the charges. Do we understand the law correctly regarding the timing of returning the security deposit and notification of damages and repairs needed?


I'm Lucy, and I'd be happy to answer your questions today. I'm sorry to hear that this happened.

Tennessee law requires the landlord to notify the tenant of their right to do an inspection, and then the two of you are supposed to go through the apartment together. The landlord isn't allowed to keep the deposit for any damages not discussed during that inspection, Tenn. Code, Section 66-28-301. If they didn't tell you that you could request an inspection, they forfeit the deposit. They have to return the whole thing before they can seek any other damages from you.

A tenant that violates the pet policy does not forfeit his security deposit. The landlord's recourse is to evict the tenant for breach of the lease. They can only keep the deposit if the pet caused damage - but only if they notified you of your right to inspection and then gave you an itemized list of damages. If you sue for a refund of the deposit, you will win.

Ordinarily, the landlord can countersue, even though they broke the law. However, in this case, since they didn't notice the damage within 30 days, they can't collect any money for those "damages". They could only win a countersuit if you owed rent when you left.

If you have any questions or concerns about my response, please reply WITHOUT RATING. It's important that you are 100% satisfied with my courtesy and professionalism. Otherwise, please rate my service positively so I am paid for the time I spend answering questions. If you are on a mobile device, you may need to scroll to the right. There is no charge for follow-up questions. Thank you.

Customer: replied 9 months ago.
Thank you. The lease states the tenant must notify the landlord if the tenants want to do a walk through. My daughter and her room mates did not schedule a walk through with the landlord. Does this change anything? We don't have to pay the charges since it was more than 60 days before being notified. Is that correct?

You're right that you don't have to pay because of the delay in sending the notification. But if they try to dispute that, the failure to do an inspection also helps. The statute says the landlord should give the tenant notice of the right to an inspection within 5 days after the tenant gives notice that they're moving, so putting it in the lease isn't effective.

Do you have any other questions about this?

Customer: replied 8 months ago.
Thank you. I have exchanged emails with one of the property management's employees highlighting the same TN ordinance included in your answer to my question. She never addresses their noncompliance in her response to my email and only attempts to diffuse by offering a remedy of paying the requested amount in two installments. Obviously, this is an unacceptable solution for us.
The following is part of an email I sent to the landlord's representative: "We have received and reviewed your emailed response.  Please be advised that your rationale of "being too busy" is not our problem; and based on the things you've indicated should certainly have been predictable.  This does not serve to change the Landlord Tenant laws in anyway."
"Furthermore, landlords in the state of  Tennessee must provide tenants with advance notice before taking any deductions out of the security deposit, such as for the cost of repairs for damage to the property."
At the present time the landlord's representative emailed that she was "turning the matter over to their attorney". What should we do now?
Thank you,
Denise Reidy

If they're still not willing to return the deposit (and "too busy" is ridiculous - it takes more time to write/mail two checks than one), the next step is to file a lawsuit. Check with the Court of General Sessions in your area to see if they have Complaint forms online. They may be able to mail you the forms if they don't have them online.

When the Complaint is ready, it's filed with the courthouse, and then the Complaint and Summons are mailed to the defendant by the clerk of the court.

Please rate my answer positively to ensure I get credit for the time I spend helping. If you are on a mobile device, you may need to scroll to the right. Thank you.

Customer: replied 8 months ago.
Thank you. There is a form letter online that in part states "suing for double the security deposit". The security deposit is $500.00, but they are also charging over $1700.00 in additional charges. If we file a lawsuit I am hopeful their attorney would want to settle, or am I being unrealistic? Would it be possible to recover double the security deposit and not pay any of the additional charges? Do judges tend to follow landlord tenant ordinances strictly?

The tenant's case is only about the security deposit and the double damages. If the landlord wants to try to claim additional amounts, they have to file a counterclaim for that money. They have the burden of proving every single charge - both the items deducted from the original deposit and the additional charges. If all of the charges are bogus, it is possible for the tenant to get a refund of the deposit and not have to pay anything.

Landlord/tenant law heavily favors the tenant, and judges will hold landlords to the requirements in the statute. They're not allowed to say "It's OK that you didn't send the notice in time because..." when the statute clearly states a time limit for refunding the deposit.

Customer: replied 8 months ago.
Dear [Landlord]:
On [Month XX, 20XX] I vacated [Rental Property Address].  Under the law of [your state] you had [number of] days in which to notify me of any valid deductions from my security deposit and refund all unused funds to me.
That time period has now passed. To date, I have neither received an itemized list of deductions from my deposit nor received a check refunding my security deposit. [Here ask for remedy provided by your state’s law. Examples include, “You can no longer withhold any money from my deposit, so I demand you return the entire deposit in the amount of [dollar amount] within 5 days of the date of this letter.” ). OR “You are now obligated under state law to pay me double the deposit amount. I demand that you pay me [dollar amount] within 5 days of the date of this letter.”]
Should you fail to return my deposit [or pay the penalty provided by law] within 5 days of the date of this letter, I will be forced to take the matter to small claims court.Do you think it would be advisable to send the following letter or something similar before filing with small claims court? Or, would it be better not to "show my hand?"

If you haven't sent a letter yet that specifically says "Here is TN law, you broke it, and here is the penalty," sending it now could help get the money without having to go to court. It helps to cite the specific statute rather than just saying "Under the law of Tennessee." If you're sending a letter, you can print the statute (linked above), highlight the relevant portions, and send it via certified mail with a return receipt." That should get their attention.

It's not required, but sometimes it helps you avoid having to take a day off work to go to court.

Customer: replied 8 months ago.
I am sorry but I don't understand where the Tennessee statute is linked above

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Customer: replied 8 months ago.
We have been served summons for damages with court date in Feb. What if the other roommates are served also, since my daughter and I have been the ones communicating with the landlord? Can they sue us, and if they win, would we have to sue the other roommates for their share?

They're allowed to sue only you or all the tenants. You're allowed to file a Third Party Complaint bringing the roommates into the case now. Or you can file a counterclaim for the deposit plus the penalty and then divvy it up among the other roommates once you receive it (since the original deposit, at least, belonged to all of them). You could also do both.

Customer: replied 8 months ago.
Hi Lucy,
We were served a summons from the landlord who is now represented by an attorney. Do we have to file a counterclaim within a certain timeframe? In our counterclaim we will sue for double the amount of the security deposit. Do we dispute the damages individually with rationale for our dispute? Is the attorney/landlord able to read the counterclaim?

I'm sorry to hear that you got a summons.

I'm happy to answer this for you, however, the terms and conditions of the site require that I ask you to open a new question. That is the only way to ensure that experts are fairly compensated for the time it takes to discuss each individual topic. I apologize for the inconvenience.

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