A Humble Story

How one phone call changed the life of a real tenant

“We are taking $1,000 out of your security deposit.”

These were the devastating words said to me 3 years ago when I was moving out of my rental.

Although I didn’t know it then, this fateful statement unknowingly changed me and the lives of countless tenants for the better.

Look, like millions of other Americans I had lived my entire adult life in apartments and rental units.

As a millennial, the American dream of buying a home seemed almost impossible. Every time I made progress with my income the cost of living increased. Higher prices for gas and groceries, car fell apart and needed a new one, having kids, moving across the country, it never seemed to end.

The idea of saving tens of thousands of dollars to buy a home when I was barely making ends meet seemed impossible.

Then along came a new job opportunity in another city and with it the promise of a better future.

Of course I jumped on it but it came with a catch, I had to move.

That meant breaking my lease and moving in a rush.

And moving cities can be stressful. You have to put down the deposit and the first month on the next lease before leaving your current one.

Somehow I managed to convince my landlord to break my lease early and we rushed out the door and drove away in a U-Haul.

The landlord was not available when we were leaving but said they would be by the day after we left to go through and would send us the deposit. Seemed fair enough and I was in a rush. Foolish of me, I know.

We had put every dime we had into the next lease and the moving costs. We had just enough for the trip and were counting on the deposit to hold us over for a few weeks until my first paycheck.

It was all worked out.

And then the call came.

I’ll never forget it. We were on the road in the middle of nowhere in some desert and the landlord called and told me that $1,000 was being taken out of the deposit due to damages to the floorboards and some holes in the walls. 

I argued that we never damaged anything and left it in good condition. He said there was definite damage. 

It was my word against his and I wasn’t there and almost a day away. 

And the worst part, he was holding my deposit. 

I was in despair. What could I do?

So I did what so many others do, accept “reality” and use my credit cards to hold me over and “make it work”.

This phone call stuck with me and I couldn’t shake that there was something wrong with this picture. 

So once we settled down I started digging to see if I could find some answers and I was shocked. 

There was nothing out there to protect tenants.

Sure, there are tenant protection laws and small claims courts and lawyers. But one might spend as much or more on legal fees as the security deposit itself. 

Plus, who wants to fight for weeks or months over $500? Seems awful.

I looked for resources and articles on what the landlord is legally allowed to deduct from the deposit and I found that every state actually has laws that govern this.

But there was no codified place where tenants could easily find this.

As it turns out, that $1,000 deduction was legally considered wear and tear and should have been covered by the landlord!

I started asking around to see what others’ understanding was on the subject and to my surprise most other people that I spoke to who rented did not really know what is considered “wear and tear” and what the laws were.

And here was my big revelation:

If I had just spent 10 minutes taking some pictures of the before and after I could have saved $1000.

And there could be no argument about it. No “my word against yours”. No legal battles.

Seems dumb and obvious but ever since I have never had an issue and never felt worried about my deposit ever again.

Total security.

I then started asking around and found that most people were just like me and didn’t bother taking photos. “The landlord should”, “I think the property manager did”, “Not sure where they are”. I heard it all.

And what was wild was most people I spoke to were worried about getting their deposit back or concerned with “unfair” deductions. 

But just like me they were not being responsible for themselves and taking the needed precautions to protect their money.

Sure, landlords shouldn’t unfairly deduct from deposits and should properly document the unit.

And most landlords are people just like us and actually care about people. 

But we have long evolved past “my word vs yours” and have plenty of resources to document the truth.

I have yet to meet someone these days who doesn’t have more computing power in their pocket than NASA had when they went to the moon. Not to mention the camera quality…

So there really isn’t any excuse to not take responsibility and document the rental unit. 

And every landlord I worked with since was more than happy to give my full deposit back after I gave them a complete report. No arguing about pictures….

That is my story. I wanted to share it with the hopes that other tenants would take advantage of this knowledge and not have to learn the hard way like I did.

Richard T - Tenant

If one has the knolwedge of a subject, they cannot be negatively affected by it.

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