Landlords are allowed to deduct fair, reasonable cleaning charges from your security deposit if you leave your apartment or its furnishings excessively dirty. But what if you feel that your landlord deducted exorbitant or outrageous cleaning fees from your security deposit? What can you do?
Ask to See Invoices and Itemized Security Deposit Deductions
Landlords are only allowed to charge you for the actual cost of cleaning that was required if you failed to clean your apartment and return it to move-in condition. So, you can ask to see the actual invoices your landlord is, in effect, claiming to have paid for cleaning in your apartment after you moved out.
While in many states landlords aren’t actually required to provide you with cleaning invoices and receipts, they are indeed required to itemize each cleaning deduction. If you received a letter that states you were charged $400 for “cleaning,” that is not considered itemized.
An itemized deduction list includes specific charges for specific cleaning that was performed in your apartment. For example, an itemized list might include: “$15 to replace excessively soiled blinds” or “$10 to dispose of multiple items left in refrigerator and freezer.”
If your landlord will not provide you with invoices or did not itemize your security deposit deductions for cleaning, you may consult an attorney or contact your local Better Business Bureau for help and advice on recouping an overcharged amount.
Contact the Better Business Bureau About Outrageous Cleaning Charges
Using the BBB won’t cost you anything, but the organization also has no authority to “make” your landlord refund exorbitant charges. Only a judge can do that.
You can file a BBB complaint, however, and hope your landlord will want to resolve the case to your satisfaction, since BBB complaints and resolutions can be researched by anyone with an Internet connection — including future tenants who may research the landlord before renting an apartment from him.
Any landlord, then, who cares a bit about his or her reputation will want to at least meet you halfway in resolving your complaint about the cleaning charges that he or she deducted from your security deposit.
You can find your local BBB office by visiting www.bbb.org and providing your zip code on the site’s home page. Your landlord need not be a BBB member in order for you to file a complaint against him or her.
Contact an Attorney About Outrageous Cleaning Charges
While you will have to pay an attorney for his or her help in recouping unfair security deposit cleaning deductions — though most initial consultations are free — if the amount you were overcharged is quite large, it may be worth it.
The biggest advantage of contacting a local attorney who specializes in rental real estate is that the attorney will be well-versed in the landlord-tenant laws specific to your state, as laws can be quite different from one state to another.
Other Options for Fighting Outrageous Cleaning Charges
If you are a student, your university may have a landlord-tenant advisory office or committee, or a student legal aid office, which routinely helps students in landlord-tenant disputes.
Some cities also have municipal landlord-tenant boards that can aid and advise tenants who have been treated unfairly or in an illegal manner by landlords.
Like the BBB, campus or city landlord-tenant boards cannot usually force a landlord to prove the validity or his or her security deposit cleaning deductions or refund your money, but they can usually advise you on your legal rights at no charge. Check your campus or city department directory to see if a local board is available to help you.
Author Experience in Rental Property Management