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Background:
I live in California. On the day of moving out from my apartment, my truck scraped balcony of my apartment building. It caused some minor cosmetic damage.
After about a week, I was sent a statement by the Landlord showing that I owe them $1300 - taking into account my deposit of $500, cleaning charges of $200 and $1600 for repairing the damage caused by the truck. They also included an estimate from an "approved" contractor showing cost of repair as $1600.
I thought the repair charges were excessive so asked the landlord to allow me to get some more estimates which they refused. Also, in spite of repeatedly asking for it, I did not get an itemized details for the $1600 repair charges.
I showed the pictures of damage to a professional estimator and contractor - both estimated the repair to be around $500. So I have offered to settle for $500 but they did not accept.

Talking to several people and a lawyer I have following options:
1. Pay the full amount and be done with it.
2. Pay the full amount and then sue in small claims court to recover the extra/unjustified amount
3. Pay the "justified" amount - $500 and wait for the debt to go to collections or get sued
4. Don't pay anything and wait for the debt to go to collections or get sued
5. Sue in small claims court right away (not sure if bill will go to collections in the meantime??)

Question: What do you guys think is the best option? My priority is to not tarnish my credit history but at the same time not pay an unreasonable amount for the damage.

Member Summary
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I agree that general usage may apply if the term isn't defined in the lease, but that is very unlikely.

satchelsofgold (Jan. 06, 2013 @ 4:41p) |

Thanks to FinancialAnalyst, SIS and other sane voices. I plan to make a full payment but have kept the option to file a ... (more)

MorrisBoy (Jan. 07, 2013 @ 4:32p) |

Morris I think it's very reasonable to request the actual paid repair invoice , and proof of payment , before paying the... (more)

SUCKISSTAPLES (Jan. 07, 2013 @ 4:38p) |

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I'd lean towards option #4. They already have $500 of your money. Make them do the work to come after you if they want more.

I'm not familiar with CA rules on this though.

Got picts of the damage? Just fur curiosity.

I'm not familiar with CA laws on landlord issues, but it seems unusual to pay a repair based on an estimate rather than the actual cost to repair. It may be accomplished for less or more than an estimate, so that's why you need an itemized bill to settle the debt.

Have you read your state (and local, if applicable) landlord-tenant laws? There are often very specific provisions that the landlord has to follow, especially with regard to a security deposit. Commonly, this includes itemizing damages. If the landlord doesn't you may be entitled to the return of your deposit, plus double or triple in damages. Make sure you read through the law(s).

The cost the landlord was quoted could possibly be reasonable. Damage to a balcony could seem cosmetic to you but could be a safety issue. The last thing the landlord wants is for a kid to fall off the balcony and the parents to sue the landlord and prove that he cheaped out on the repair.

Thanks for the replies. Attaching the pictures.

I am Ok with going for #4 but not sure if they can send the bill to collections and screw my credit history in the meantime. Anyone from CA with knowledge of the matter?

I have read the tenant-landlord law regarding security deposit (http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/landlordbook/sec-deposit.shtm... and it's not clear to me if Landlord needs to provide itemized estimate if the repair is being done by third party. In this case the third-party construction company has provided the estimate but not itemized it.
Quoting from link:
If another person or business did the work - The landlord must provide you copies of the person's or business' invoice or receipt. The landlord must provide the person's or business' name, address, and telephone number on the invoice or receipt, or in the itemized statement.

If that is an accurate summary of the code, then it seems the landlord must provide you an itemized statement no matter what. The landlord must also provide a receipt/invoice if a third party does the repair or, if that's not available, a good-faith estimate.

not that i'm very knowledgeable in the area but that doesn't look like it should cost $1600 to fix.

This is not a landlord/tenant issue and has nothing to do with your deposit. This is you damaging private property. Did you take out insurance when you rented the truck? You car insurance most likely will not cover it.

Stucco is a real PITA. They could patch it, and probably be OK since its CA and not much rain or freezing temps. More likely they are going to strip it back to a joint, put up new lathe, and restucco a larger area. I would imagine your estimate is patch it, and the LL estimate is strip it and replace. Either way unless its seriously talented people the patch and color difference will be evident in the repair. You did legitimate damage and owe for it, have the landlord repair it and send you the itemized bill for payment.

You should collect $100 for each month you stayed in his place for having a yellow paint on the outside.

The trouble with #4 is that you're going to sit around with no defense. Make the landlord validate their own claims in small claims court. With #5, at least you're causing trouble for the landlord. From that link you provided:

"In such a lawsuit, the landlord has the burden of proving that his or her deductions from your security deposit were reasonable"

If I were you, I would call around and get my own estimates to prove how much the work is actually going to cost. That way when you bring them to small claims, the landlord has to prove that their estimates were reasonable, but if you have multiple estimates much lower, then the judge will likely rule in your favor and the landlord will have to pay you your full deposit back up to twice the amount.

Don't worry about getting it into collections; it's not a debt because the debt right now is an invalid claim. The estimate seems unreasonable and they did not provide an itemized receipt on your deposit.

CptSavAHo said:   This is not a landlord/tenant issue and has nothing to do with your deposit. This is you damaging private property. Did you take out insurance when you rented the truck? You car insurance most likely will not cover it.


Not sure that argument would work. He lived in the property and damaged the property. Thats what the damage deposit is for.

I don't think there is any "it doesn't count on moving out day" rules...

t60 said:   ...

If I were you, I would call around and get my own estimates to prove how much the work is actually going to cost. That way when you bring them to small claims, the landlord has to prove that their estimates were reasonable, but if you have multiple estimates much lower, then the judge will likely rule in your favor and the landlord will have to pay you your full deposit back up to twice the amount.

Don't worry about getting it into collections; it's not a debt because the debt right now is an invalid claim. The estimate seems unreasonable and they did not provide an itemized receipt on your deposit.



I agree that getting your own estimate in writing is a good idea no matter what route you take.
That would be useful if you sue them first or wait for them to take action or if you just try and renegotiate with them.

It doesn't matter what your estimates might say. It's their estimate that controls as they get to select the repair person .

This is no different from you hitting a car , causing a small dent you think Should cost $500 to fix but the other party's Body Shop says $1600.

You don't get to dictate how much the damaged party pays to fix it . Their quote would have to be unreasonable to get discarded, and its not. It's well within the realm of reasonable cost for a proper repair , not a quickie patch job

You can state you think it's high and offer to settle for a compromise amount , or demand they send you the actual paid repair bill after its fixed if you think they aren't going to really spend $1600. But chances are they are really going to pay $1600 - and so are you

I'd say that looks to me to be about $1600 in damages, actually. The landlord doesn't have to accept a "patch job"--they deserve to be made whole, and that means redoing the surface and repainting it.

Also, getting estimates from guys looking at (extremely limited) photos is going to lead nowhere.

Also, don't imagine for a moment that the estimate doesn't count as "itemized damages", and don't imagine that it "won't count" as some here have suggested. If your landlord sues you, neither will be defenses, and you won't get double or triple damages on your deposit. Rather, you'll be paying the $1,600.

The upshot is you damaged the place. You can't say $0.00 is a fair settlement. If you wind up in court and have offered nothing, the judge is going to look upon any defense you offer as weak tea.

jerosen said:   CptSavAHo said:   This is not a landlord/tenant issue and has nothing to do with your deposit. This is you damaging private property. Did you take out insurance when you rented the truck? You car insurance most likely will not cover it.


Not sure that argument would work. He lived in the property and damaged the property. Thats what the damage deposit is for.

I don't think there is any "it doesn't count on moving out day" rules...


I think you misunderstand what I meant, and I want to clarify. This does not qualify for the dispute process that would be in place for say, damaged carpet, where you could argue the life, quality, condition etc of the carpet in relation to the dollar amount. This is separate from the deposit and I'm not sure the LL could have held over $300 from the deposit. SIS can give a more solid answer, but either way OP will owe the $1600 for repairs.

^ I don't see why its separate from the damage deposit. Its damage to the property which the deposit is meant for.

Just for comparison's sake, I had my entire 1800 sq ft home re-stuccoed for $4000, including texture and decorative trim work.

From that photo I would also call it a $500 job. That is $200 to get someone to spend their time getting to the jobsite, $200 in repair work, and $100 to have them come back and repaint it after it dries.

Frankly, OP, if you had run to Home Depot, gotten a $25 matched can of paint, and painted the whole surface, I bet it would have been fine. However you DID damage it, it IS "significant" and you're causing the landlord considerable hassle... but I think it could get repaired much much cheaper than $1600.

Since it is on the outside of the building, however, it could be that the building management is getting involved, (if they are separate from "your landlord") which could complicate things quite a bit. If the exterior of the unit is considered "common area" even your landlord's hands may be tied in terms of what can be done and who can do repairs.

So what that it can be done much cheaper. How is that relevant ?

If I scratch someone's car I can get a $6 tube of touch up paint and do a good job repairing it- That doesn't mean they need to accept that amount as a repair . They can use a $1000 Body Shop and I have to pay for it.

CptSavAHo said:   This is not a landlord/tenant issue and has nothing to do with your deposit. This is you damaging private property. Did you take out insurance when you rented the truck? You car insurance most likely will not cover it.

Stucco is a real PITA. They could patch it, and probably be OK since its CA and not much rain or freezing temps. More likely they are going to strip it back to a joint, put up new lathe, and restucco a larger area. I would imagine your estimate is patch it, and the LL estimate is strip it and replace. Either way unless its seriously talented people the patch and color difference will be evident in the repair. You did legitimate damage and owe for it, have the landlord repair it and send you the itemized bill for payment.


It is a landlord-tenant issue if the landlord is using your deposit in this issue!

Just trying negotiating with the landlord something that reasonable to both of you. If it was me i would not want to waste time with going to court then risking losing. Even if you have to pay higher then you want move on. It should also come as a lesson to be more careful next time with any rental property, been there done it.

I agree with what captain save a ho says, when he says that this issue has nothing to do with your security deposit. but not much more.
The reason I agree with that, is because your damage deposit is part of your lease and your lease should clearly describe exactly what you have dominion and control over while the lease is in effect. The exterior balcony appears to me to be a common area or part of the property that is not subject to the lease. Thus, in my view, the damage deposit is as applicable here as it would be if you drove over to the landlord's house to pay last month's rent and did that damage to his house. In other words, not applicable.
Disclaimer: I might be wrong. Perhaps the lease does pertain to that balcony overhang and/or under California landlord/tenant law, the security deposit does apply to any property owned by the landlord. You are advised to carefully review your lease and landlord/tenant law in CA.

That said, the overwhelming consensus here is that you owe whatever the landlord says you owe for the damage. If this is a matter outside the lease, my view is that they are all wrong. Even is this is a matter concerning the lease, my view is that they are probably still wrong. If you have damaged someone's property, you do need to pay them to make them whole, but they have a responsibility to mitigate their damages. That means they must do what it takes to keep their damages as low as possible. On one hand, this does not give the landlord the right to tear down the balcony and reconstruct it, nor can you insist that the landlord slop a quart of cheap paint on the wall to make it less noticeable. I am not sure what it would take to make it the way it was before you damaged it and what the cost is, that is up to you to figure out.

Here's the best argument...think if you were the landlord and you made a thread on FW.

"You get to choose who fixes it, don't let it be a patch job."
"The tenant drove his truck into the property and needs to pay"
"Take his ass to court. Open and shut case."

SUCKISSTAPLES said:   
You don't get to dictate how much the damaged party pays to fix it . Their quote would have to be unreasonable to get discarded, and its not. It's well within the realm of reasonable cost for a proper repair , not a quickie patch job

How do we establish "reasonable cost" if they won't allow me to get quotes from any other contractors?

SUCKISSTAPLES said:   So what that it can be done much cheaper. How is that relevant ?

If I scratch someone's car I can get a $6 tube of touch up paint and do a good job repairing it- That doesn't mean they need to accept that amount as a repair . They can use a $1000 Body Shop and I have to pay for it.
Just playing devil's advocate, but one has to draw the line as to what is reasonable. For this same repair, what if the landlord paid $2,000 for the repair? $3,000? $5,000? $10,000? Would you still be held responsible for that?

Just so that it's clear - I am willing to pay to have it fixed. What I don't want to do is overpay just because their approved and preferred contractor says it's a certain amount.

t60 said:   SUCKISSTAPLES said:   So what that it can be done much cheaper. How is that relevant ?

If I scratch someone's car I can get a $6 tube of touch up paint and do a good job repairing it- That doesn't mean they need to accept that amount as a repair . They can use a $1000 Body Shop and I have to pay for it.
Just playing devil's advocate, but one has to draw the line as to what is reasonable. For this same repair, what if the landlord paid $2,000 for the repair? $3,000? $5,000? $10,000? Would you still be held responsible for that?

$10,000 for cosmetic stucco repAir probably would not be reasonable and op would have a much better chance in court arguing its not reasonable .

But that's not the issue here - it's $500 vs $1600 , which seems entirely reasonable from simply looking at the pics

If there was structural damage requiring more than just stucco repair $10,000 could be reasonable

CptSavAHo said:   This is not a landlord/tenant issue and has nothing to do with your deposit. This is you damaging private property.

This is the best comment here, couldnt have said it better myself. Also, you kept mentioning 'waiting for it to go to collections', that most likely can't happen until you're sued and a judgement rendered. This is NOT related to your move-out/deposit/etc. Of course, CA does have some bizarre consumer laws (in both directions), so I suppose it's possible that somebody might have lobbied hard enough at some point to be able to lump these things together but I doubt it. If anything CA landlord tenant law usually is most oppressive for landlords and falls in favor of tenants if anyone.

Also, since this IS Fatwallet, I would go so far as to demand IN WRITING that the landlord return all of your deposit (beyond any legit amount for cleaning and repair obviously). That at least gives the required notice, and in many states landlords who retain deposits without proper cause are liable for treble damages by default. Even if the exterior damage was covered under security deposit withholding they'd be required to itemize for anything they kept, but if not (as I and others suspect) then you could eventually wind up recovering enough from them in damages to pay for the damage that YOU did.

Hey, "you" (via cash, insirance etc) owe the money, but no sense in letting them screw you in the process.

starcastic said:   .. This is NOT related to your move-out/deposit/etc. ...

How do you figure? Its damaged done by the tenant to the property on move out day. Hows that not related to the damage deposit for the property?

I would get second opinions and use that as leverage against your landlord. I had some patchwork done on my place in AZ and it was only a few hundred dollars. Looks like he had a real "professional" estimate on it when it looks minor enough for someone to fix pretty quickly.

jerosen said:   starcastic said:   .. This is NOT related to your move-out/deposit/etc. ...

How do you figure? Its damaged done by the tenant to the property on move out day. Hows that not related to the damage deposit for the property?


When you lease an apartment, you're leasing a unit number and often a parking space. Your lease is a contract for those pieces of property only. It doesn't have anything to do with the complex.

Al3xK said:   jerosen said:   starcastic said:   .. This is NOT related to your move-out/deposit/etc. ...

How do you figure? Its damaged done by the tenant to the property on move out day. Hows that not related to the damage deposit for the property?


When you lease an apartment, you're leasing a unit number and often a parking space. Your lease is a contract for those pieces of property only. It doesn't have anything to do with the complex.


Did he say it wasn't his balcony that he damaged?

If it isn't his balcony then I still don't know why the landlord wouldn't be able to withhold damages. Security deposit should apply to damages of communal areas or external areas of the property. Why wouldn't it?

Its damages done by the tenant to the property. "the property" isn't going to be defined only by the unit the tenant rented but will include the entire complex.

I doubt this distinction is covered by the laws explicitly (maybe I'm wrong) and more likely its something the courts would decide. But then it becomes moot because he is responsible for the damages either way and the court won't care about the distinction and simply make him pay.

jerosen said:   Its damages done by the tenant to the property. "the property" isn't going to be defined only by the unit the tenant rented but will include the entire complex.

I think this line is the crux of the confusion. I believe it actually is defined explicitly by a unit, along with your renters insurance specifically covering the unit only.


If what you're saying is right, alternatively couldn't damage with an unknown source to the roof of another unit be taken out of everyone's security deposit since they can't pin it on one person?

Just my 2 cents, OP only showed 1 side of the damage. I'm curious if he took a picture of the joint between the balcony and the wall and is that now cracked.

jerosen said:   CptSavAHo said:   This is not a landlord/tenant issue and has nothing to do with your deposit. This is you damaging private property. Did you take out insurance when you rented the truck? You car insurance most likely will not cover it.


Not sure that argument would work. He lived in the property and damaged the property. Thats what the damage deposit is for.

I don't think there is any "it doesn't count on moving out day" rules...


When I rented a moving truck, I paid for liability insurance. If OP did, I think the truck rental company's insurance would pay the bill (minus any deductible... in my case, I chose $500).

That looks like very minor damage. Why not sneak back and night with a can of spray paint and repair the damage yourself?

Al3xK said:   jerosen said:   Its damages done by the tenant to the property. "the property" isn't going to be defined only by the unit the tenant rented but will include the entire complex.

I think this line is the crux of the confusion. I believe it actually is defined explicitly by a unit, along with your renters insurance specifically covering the unit only.


If what you're saying is right, alternatively couldn't damage with an unknown source to the roof of another unit be taken out of everyone's security deposit since they can't pin it on one person?


Where would it say in writing that security deposit ONLY applies to the interior of your unit?

I don't think that that the CA law would limit deposit use to cover only the confines of the interior of your rental. Does it say that?
And I don't imagine landlords would write the lease in a way that would limit deposit uses.

But its not reasonable to charge someone for damages with an unknown source. However here the source of the damage is known and the OP admits to it.

atohmc said:   jerosen said:   CptSavAHo said:   This is not a landlord/tenant issue and has nothing to do with your deposit. This is you damaging private property. Did you take out insurance when you rented the truck? You car insurance most likely will not cover it.


Not sure that argument would work. He lived in the property and damaged the property. Thats what the damage deposit is for.

I don't think there is any "it doesn't count on moving out day" rules...


When I rented a moving truck, I paid for liability insurance. If OP did, I think the truck rental company's insurance would pay the bill (minus any deductible... in my case, I chose $500).


Right I understand that point. The OP could put in an insurance claim if they were insured. But that doesn't stop the landlord taking the money out of the deposit in the meantime, does it? NOr does that mean this isn't a landlord/tenant issue.

jerosen said:   atohmc said:   jerosen said:   CptSavAHo said:   This is not a landlord/tenant issue and has nothing to do with your deposit. This is you damaging private property. Did you take out insurance when you rented the truck? You car insurance most likely will not cover it.


Not sure that argument would work. He lived in the property and damaged the property. Thats what the damage deposit is for.

I don't think there is any "it doesn't count on moving out day" rules...


When I rented a moving truck, I paid for liability insurance. If OP did, I think the truck rental company's insurance would pay the bill (minus any deductible... in my case, I chose $500).


Right I understand that point. The OP could put in an insurance claim if they were insured. But that doesn't stop the landlord taking the money out of the deposit in the meantime, does it? NOr does that mean this isn't a landlord/tenant issue.


Ah, got it. I was mostly talking about the 2nd part of that statement (re: the insurance). Didn't realize until your most recently reply that you were discussing mostly the first half of it.

whodini said:   That looks like very minor damage. Why not sneak back and night with a can of spray paint and repair the damage yourself?
Dude, great suggestion! OP needs a vandalism arrest and cleanup bill as well. He has already reported this to property management.

Skipping 54 Messages...
Morris I think it's very reasonable to request the actual paid repair invoice , and proof of payment , before paying the remaining $1300.

If they refuse and you think they provided you an inflated estimate and really paid less for the repair , by all means sue them, subpoena their repair receipts and resolve it in court



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