When landlord can't provide receipts, it's right to question fees
You absolutely have the right to challenge their deductions in small claims court, but I would suggest the first step you take is to simply ask for copies of the receipts. Then you need to seriously ask yourself if the court will find in your favor in an amount that will cover the costs of filing and serving a small claims court action, including the costs and time to travel back to the state where the rental unit is located to pursue your claim.
Remember that the courts will not award you your costs for travel and time off work, and you will be limited to the amount of the deductions from your security deposit as the maximum you could possibly receive.
Even if a court completely agreed with you (small claims courts rarely side 100 percent for tenants or landlords in disputes over security deposits, in my experience), you will not recoup all of your out-of-pocket costs and time.
In the future, I suggest you ask for a walk-through with your landlord in person prior to vacating. You should ask the landlord to estimate for you the charges that he expects to incur based on his experience. This is approximately what you will see deducted from your security deposit except for any latent or hidden damage that the landlord cannot detect until your furnishings and possessions are removed from the property. Then you can decide what work or items you would like to handle personally. Then be sure to take pictures or have witnesses or copies of invoices that will verify the condition you left the rental unit in at the time you vacated.
This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of "Property Management for Dummies" and "Property Management Kit for Dummies" and co-author of "Real Estate Investing for Dummies."
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