1.  Security Deposit Refunds

I have lost count of how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “We left the home in better condition than we received it” from a tenant who is being charged for damages.  It is imperative as a landlord to conduct a thorough move-in inspection complete with lots of pictures. Set the standard with a professional cleaning before move-in and save the receipt.  If you can prove in writing and with photos the before and after condition, you will be set up for success.

You have 21 days to complete the deposit settlement, but if you have complicated repairs or are waiting on a final utility bill, you may not be able to produce a fully resolved statement with to-the-penny accounting within 21 days. In this case, send a statement with estimated expenses for the specific items you intend to spend security deposit dollars on.  This way, you establish a paper trail in a timely manner.  You would be wise to wrap this up as soon as reasonably possible once work is done, bills are received, and utilities are calculated.  You may be able to avoid a day in court by sharing the before and after photos with the tenant to prove the damages, or on the flipside, you may discover that the tenants’ claims are true and a further refund is in order.

[Editor’s Note:  Be sure to send a copy of your individual invoices that are over $125 along with your security deposit refund accounting!  Use AOA’s form number 133- Security Deposit Refund letter.]

2.  Delayed Repairs

A dryer stops drying.  A freezer stops freezing.  It happens.  Depending on the nature of the problem, there is a legal timeline within which a landlord must take action.

The key to avoiding a lawsuit is to over-communicate to the tenant so they know you are on the ball.  Establish a paper trail as soon as you can, in terms of contacting a vendor for repair.  You may even consider sending your tenant a copy of the work order to prove it has been submitted.  I point out appliances specifically because this can be particularly inconvenient.  Consider renting a fridge and put it in the garage, for example, if every fridge repair tech you’ve contacted is booked out for a week.

3.  Discrimination Claims

These can, and often do, take place prior to tenancy during the application and screening process.  Are you familiar with all of the protected classes in your jurisdiction?  The bottom line here is that EVERYONE must be treated equally.

When considering an application, you should focus on price and terms.  Is the applicant financially qualified and are they offering to meet your advertised terms?  If yes, then you should think very carefully about passing on their application.

[Editor’s Note: To avoid discrimination cases, give a copy of your “written criteria for renting” to every applicant along with the application.  This will spell out exactly what you require from each applicant and weed out those who do not qualify.  Members may download a sample copy of AOA’s form 100Q, and specify their own requirements.]

 Cory Brewer is the General Manager at Windermere Property Management / Lori Gill & Associates.  His firm oversees management of approximately 1,500 residential rental homes through the Greater Seattle area as well and commercial and multi-family properties.  He may be contacted at wpme@windermere.com.  Reprinted with permission.