Rent it Right
For example, suppose the rug has been damaged by stains and misuse -- ideally, the owner would tell you that he'd charge a certain amount for its cleaning or replacement.
The original roommates should cover this expense, which should come out of their shares, and you could buy the departing tenant's deposit for the original sum less his portion of the ruined rug deduction.
Landlords also inspect for cleanliness at the end of the term. At this point, however, there's no reason to polish up the rental, because the entire group isn't moving. If you stay to the end, you'll have to do your part to clean the unit, which the departing tenant has happily avoided. You might ask that tenant to compensate you for part of the time you'll spend on this end-of-lease chore.
But as mentioned at the outset, it's not likely that your landlord will go along with this request. First of all, in an occupied rental, furniture and personal items may cover or mask damage that the landlord just won't see.
If he sees it at the end, he won't want an argument as to why he didn't note it earlier. And in a broader sense, the landlord really has nothing to gain from this added bit of work: He's entitled to keep the entire deposit until the whole tenancy ends, and how the co-tenants allocate it among them is not his problem.
The last thing the landlord wants is to get in the middle of a spat among roommates as to who caused the damage, and when it happened.
2. Do your own inspection. While you can't force your landlord to conduct an early inspection, there's no reason why all of you can't do one yourselves.
Take a good hard look at the rental and ask yourselves, if we were the owner, knowing how he or she does business and how this place looked when we moved in, what would we deduct for today?
How much would it cost to replace that ruined rug, or clean it? What about the multiple picture hangers in every room -- will these result in a claim that the entire place has to be painted?
When you come up with an estimate for repairs or replacement, divide that cost by the number of roommates, subtract the result from each roommate's share, and offer to buy the departing tenant's deposit share minus that sum.
Of course, you can't be sure that your estimates will be the same as those used by the landlord. Here is where ongoing communication and good faith among all tenants are required.
Suppose the landlord insists on replacing the rug rather than cleaning, which makes your original deduction for cleaning too small. Ideally, you'd contact the departed tenant and be reimbursed for your share of the difference between the actual deduction and your initial estimate.
Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of "Every Landlord's Legal Guide" and "Every Tenant's Legal Guide." She can be reached at email@example.com.
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