Chasing the elusive security deposit

Whether it’s that students don’t want the wool pulled over their eyes or landlords just want to cover their behinds, both continue to have very different views on security deposits.

Since January 2005, there have been 14 lawsuits concerning security deposits, five of which involve Copper Beech Townhouses, according to Bowling Green civil case court records.

However, Rodney Fleming, managing attorney of Student Legal Services, said this could be due to the fact that Copper Beech is new to Bowling Green and some of their policies may clash with Ohio policies.

“We have disputes and disagreements with many landlords about security deposit deductions,” Fleming said. “A lot of those have gone to trial, so we sort of have an understanding with the landlords about the law … new landlords haven’t had those experiences [and] Copper Beech is new and probably not as familiar with landlord/tenant law as I would like them to be.”

Fleming said there is a sort of “learning curve” that landlords go through and Copper Beech is at the beginning of that curve.

In addition, some students do not always read the fine print of their leases thoroughly and when they move it, they are in for a surprise.

“Disputes like these come up a lot because sometimes you get tenants who feel they’re not responsible for any damages done to the apartment,” said Beejan Savabi, director of sales at Copper Beech. “What we do is have everything documented… it makes us have a reason for everything we [charge].”

There are usually two main issues with security deposit disputes, Fleming said.

“That they’re withholding money for damages that are not the tenant’s responsibility or if it is the tenant’s responsibility, the amount they’re withholding is unreasonable,” he said.

While Savabi said that Copper Beech’s lease has been approved by the state of Ohio and is 100 percent compliant with Ohio law, certain details still seem to produce problems.

Fleming gave the example that Copper Beech, among other past landlords, has required a professional carpet cleaning before the tenant moves out.

However, according to SLS, Ohio law states that “tenants are not responsible for normal ‘wear and tear’ on a residence. You cannot be held accountable for cleaning costs unless the cleaning required is excessive or constitutes some sort of damage. For example, you cannot be charged for carpet cleaning, unless you damaged the carpet.”

This clash of rules is a big part of the recent Laurie Harrison vs. Copper Beech case, where part of Harrison’s deposit was kept for painting, general cleaning, carpet cleaning and replacement costs.

“They shouldn’t be doing this to students, they’re pretty much doing it to the wrong people,” Harrison said. “My dad is in the cleaning business… I lived with three neat freaks, our apartment was spotless.”

The case is still underway and both sides have very different versions of the truth and various evidence to counter one another.

However, it isn’t very surprising to Savabi that students and landlords will have completely different perspectives on an issue and stresses the importance of finding a happy medium.

“My advice to renters is when you move in, make sure you document everything, that is a tenant’s ally, that’s your number one piece of evidence,” he said. “Be realistic with some thing’s, be proactive… if you know you’ve done something to the unit, try to take care of it before you move out.”

Another case in 2005 that ended in favor of the student, was Lauren Wilkins vs. Winthrop Terrace, where part of Wilkins’ deposit was also kept for carpet cleaning costs.

The case was dismissed and Wilkins received her full deposit back.

Ironically, she had worked for Winthrop the previous summer cleaning apartments and said she did understand that some students do destroy their carpet and should be responsible.

“I can understand why they need to do what they do for those apartments,” she said, adding that in her case, though, the carpet was well kept and didn’t show evidence of anything beyond what would be considered normal wear and tear.

Regardless, Wilkins advised that all students read the fine print of their leases and go to SLS to have them look over it.

“If you do feel they’re trying to take advantage of you, definitely use SLS, it’s free and they’re great,” Wilkins said.

Carol Thompson, Winthrop Terrace property manager, parallels that advice.

“The checklist is very important,” Thompson said, adding that they also use the standard SLS lease, which is written in a format easier for students to understand. “If you don’t understand what something means, ask us.”

Thompson also mentioned documenting everything and that some tenants have a misconception about their landlord’s responsibilities.

“I think [tenants] don’t read their lease and then they don’t know what’s going on. They don’t communicate with their landlord … so picking up the phone is key,” she said. “They often think that everything is the landlord’s responsibility [and] just because they move, it doesn’t mean we’re the spawn of Satan once they move.”