Fischer: Renters beware – Read the lease to avoid predatory practices
Three phone calls in one week from three different clients addressing one common theme nearly obligates me to address this topic. Although I can usually take a hint, this particular coincidence seemed more of a hard shove rather than a gentle pull. Clearly, the public needs to be warned.
The first call I received was from a younger client who just purchased her first home with her husband. They had closed on their small townhouse before their previous lease agreement had expired. This gave them the opportunity to take their time moving and cleaning both their apartment as well as their new living quarters. I had advised them to have at least one of them present for their final walkthrough on their apartment. This way, they could be a witness to any possible confusion with security deposit refunds. She assured me that she had been and that the walkthrough seemed to go as planned. Normal wear and tear on the apartment but certainly nothing out of the ordinary for the 12 months they had occupied the place. Imagine their surprise then, when they were hit with a bill for an additional $700 to be added to their $600 security deposit for excessive wall holes, dirty appliances, carpet stains and damaged hardware, none of which had been there during the walkthrough.
The second call was literally the next day. I had closed another client on his first home and it was a similar situation, except his “invoice” for repairs and damage was closer to $5,000. The claim was that all the carpet had to be replaced because it smelled like cat pee. My client is the proud owner of a cat, which he has had for the past 12 years. This cat has lived with him in every other apartment complex he has lived in during that time and has never had an issue. I had been to his apartment to pick up earnest money less than one month prior, and there was no smell, and this from someone who is extremely sensitive to that specific odor. I can smell it from a football field away if it is present, and it was not present in that apartment.
I was then given a three-day reprieve from incident management before receiving the third phone call. This was from a previous client concerning her adult son’s lease agreement. She told me he had moved out early, however, rather than just being charged the two months of rent he should have been charged, since that was when his lease would expire, he was charged an additional $2,700 as a fine for inadequate notice.
All three of these claims, each made by separate property management groups, are bogus. Sadly, however, all three of these lease agreements were vague and incredibly slanted. Since I am not an attorney nor would I ever profess to that level of knowledge, I could not necessarily advise them. I did refer them to one, however.
The attempted actions by these management groups were predatory at best. Most renters, especially inexperienced young adults just getting out on their own, do not know the red flags to look for in a lease agreement. Allow me to outline just a few.
Unreasonable lease terms, or vague renewal terms would be one. Terms should be outlined clearly. Excessive late fees or early termination fees can also be cause for concern. While early termination fees are standard, excessive fees or “fines” in addition to standard fees are raptorial. Lack of security deposit information can also leave one standing vulnerable to unreasonable charges. No clearly defined clauses on access can be problematic. A landlord must give notice before entering your dwelling; be sure that is clear from the outset. Lack of provisions for living conditions is also an important component in which to expect transparency. While you may not live in the lap of luxury, you should be able to expect your indoor plumbing to work on demand.
All three of these misfortunes were transacting in large complexes with poorly rated management companies. While we all need to make a living, padding a pocketbook with predatory practices should not be the rule. It should be a rare exception to the standard with lease agreements. Unfortunately, three in a row is enough evidence to suggest otherwise.
Jen Fischer is an associate broker and Realtor. She can be reached at 801-645-2134 or email@example.com.