This article was posted on Saturday, Feb 02, 2013

[Editor’s Note:  Landlord Law & Multi-Housing Report includes expert analysis of the latest legal developments in the rental housing sector as well as news about the multi-housing market, landlord-tenant relations and successful management strategies.  Rental housing laws vary from state to state and some may not be applicable to California; however, most cases contain valuable lessons for housing providers.]

Ohio.  A landlord was entitled to retain her tenant’s security deposit to pay for repairs even though she did not provide the tenant with a written itemization of the deductions taken says an appellate court.

The month-to-month tenant decided it was time to move and provided her landlord with a proper 30-day notice of her intent to vacate. The tenant also provided her landlord with her new address in the termination notice and vacated the rental property at the end of the 30 days.

The landlord did not return the tenant’s $850 security deposit or provide her with an itemized list of deductions “explaining why her deposit would not be returned.”

The tenant sued her landlord for $1,700 — double the amount of her deposit as permitted under the state’s security deposit act.  

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The tenant testified at trial she left the premises “clean and in the same condition it was in before she moved in.” The tenant admitted she damaged the kitchen floor when she moved her refrigerator but claimed she obtained an estimate saying it would cost $250 to repair the kitchen floor. The tenant argued she was still entitled to the difference — $1,450 in damages from her landlord.  She claimed any other damages to the property constituted “normal wear and tear.”

The landlord testified at the trial about a number of repairs she had to make to the property after the tenant vacated.  And she said none of the damages she had to repair were there when the tenant moved into the property at the beginning of her lease term.

The landlord said she had to replace the kitchen floor, clean the property, remove garbage the tenant left behind, paint the basement floor due to paint the tenant spilled on the floor, replace a cracked light switch, repair the oven, clean the carpet, replace broken glass in the back door, and replace the pneumatic door openers for the screen doors.

The landlord also testified she had to install new door locks because the tenant left behind the wrong keys when she vacated the property. 

 The landlord presented $943 in repair receipts and claimed she had to pay $1,150 for labor charges to have the repairs completed.

The trial court ruled the landlord presented credible evidence which justified withholding the tenant’s $850 security deposit and concluded the tenant was not entitled to any damages.

The tenant appealed the decision in favor of the landlord and claims on appeal the trial court abused its discretion, contending the decision against her was based on “insufficient evidence.”  She also claims the “decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence.”

The appellate court affirms the trial court’s decision in favor of the landlord and says the trial court acted properly in allowing the landlord to introduce photographs of the property as evidence to prove the condition of the property after the tenant vacated because the tenant failed to object to the photographs at the trial.

The tenant says the photographs should not have been admitted because they were “tampered with and they were admitted into evidence despite” her surprise at seeing them. But since she failed to raise her objection during the trial, the appellate court says the trial court did not err by allowing the photos into evidence.

The appellate court agrees “the amount wrongfully withheld is the amount found owing from the landlord to the tenant over and above any deductions that the landlord may lawfully make.” 

Since the landlord presented credible evidence to prove the deductions taken from the tenant’s security deposit were greater than the amount of the deposit, none of the deposit was wrongfully withheld and the tenant is not entitled to damages against the landlord.

Lesson:  The landlord should have given her tenant an itemization of the deductions taken from her deposit anyway even if none of the deposit was being returned in order to hopefully avoid being sued.  The landlord properly deducted for repairs and was smart enough to take plenty of photographs of the damages to show the court — and it paid off for the landlord.  Take before and after photos and keep the repair receipts in order to defend against these types of cases.

Info:  Malinda Wilson, Plaintiff-Appellant vs. Victoria Whitmore, Defendant-Appellee.  2010Ohio App. 

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