Here's something worth discussing with Virginia renters -- how can Virginia make renting more palatable? I'll start with one wallet issue -- security deposits. I cynically told someone just a few days ago that as a renter in Virginia, you can consider your security deposit lost the minute you turn over the check -- it's just an extra expense.
In the "10/30 Bits Bucket" blog reader Tibex asked where to find a lawyer to recoup his/her security deposit. The landlady thinks she can remodel the house on the tenant's dime. Others chimed in and told their security deposit horror stories. Our last landlord also decided the house needed new siding, etc. to make the new buyers happy and "meet all of their requirements for the sale," so he kept our security deposit of $2,000. (And just like Tibex's situation, the real estate agent was in complete cahoots in order to make the sale, and did other things to make our lives miserable).
To help answer Tibex's main question, at the time I contacted a lawyer for a nominal fee and was told that my best answer for a security deposit's return was small claims court, which I didn't bother to pursue because I decided that the time and stress wasn't worth it. I was saving money on housing in other ways, and the landlord had lost $140K on the house and probably wouldn't be fun to take to court.
I think Massachusetts' laws on this issue are more tenant-friendly:
And if the landlord fails...In contrast, here are some of the anemic Virginia regulations, which first warn the tenant to do steps a,b, and c, and then hope they've done everything to get their deposit back. Then after that:
to deposit the security deposit into a bank account; to return the security deposit (or balance after lawful deductions) with interest within 30 days after termination of tenancy; or to transfer the security deposit or last month’s rent to the new landlord;
... you are entitled to the immediate return of your security deposit AND triple damages, plus court costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees. You also are entitled to triple damages, court costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees if the landlord fails to pay interest on the last month’s rent within 30 days after termination of tenancy.
Deductions from the Security Deposit:And that's just about it for Virginia. Certainly no triple damages here. Hey, I'd settle for double, and if attorney's fees were covered, tenants like Tibex would have their day in court.
If the landlord makes any deductions from the deposit, a written, itemized accounting of how much is being charged for each item must be sent to the tenant. If the landlord fails to provide such an accounting within 30 days after the tenant moves out, the landlord may forfeit the right to withhold any part of the deposit. Furthermore, the deductions taken from the deposit must be for actual damages suffered by the landlord.
How to Dispute Deposit Deductions
If a tenant receives a list of deductions, it is possible to dispute items on that list. The deductions should be addressed by the tenant in a letter sent to the landlord. The demand letter should include a response to each of the deductions, explaining which charges are being disputed and why. The tenant should keep a copy of the letter and send the original by certified mail, return receipt requested.
If the tenant receives a partial refund along with the list of deductions and wants to dispute some or all of the deductions, the tenant may want to refrain from cashing the check. If the tenant must cash the check then the tenant should tell the landlord in the letter that even though the check has been cashed, it does not mean the tenant agrees with the amount of the check.