5 On Your Side

Woman, Apartment Owner Tussle Over Security Deposit

Posted January 3, 2007 6:22 p.m. EST

— The owner of a Raleigh apartment complex has numerous pending complaints from tenants, such as not returning security deposits.

Pamela Greene has such a complaint against JP Realty IV, the owner of Lenoxplace Apartments, where she lived before moving into her house in August.

Greene said she looked forward to getting her $250 security deposit back after moving out. When almost two months passed without a check, she called Lenoxplace, and she was sent an invoice showing a $125 deduction for damages like the replacement of two bent refrigerator condiment bars, a 12-inch carpet patch and patchwork on screw holes made by curtain rods.

She said she thought such minor items were covered in a $150 redecorating fee she had already paid.

“What is the $150 for?" she said. "What does redecorating mean? Anything that needs to be done to get the apartment in shape for somebody else to move in.”

The invoice also included $700 for unpaid rent for July, even though Greene paid $810 that month. Overall, according to Lenoxplace, she owed $575.

When Greene showed July's cancelled check to Lenoxplace manager Chloe Karsten, that charge was removed. But Karsten  imposed new charges, Greene said, such as a rent abatement in 2004 that should have been disallowed and underpaying rent one month last year.

Instead of getting the $250 deposit, Greene owed that plus another $102 -- a total of $352, according to Karsten.

“It infuriated me,” said Greene, who turned to 5 On Your Side for help.

Karsten initially refused to talk with 5 On Your Side. Later, she and Lenoxplace owner John Politis said they stood by the charges and said Greene "owes the money."

Politis said the $150 redecorating fee covers "painting the walls and cleaning the carpet."

While such fees are becoming more common, some legal experts said landlords use them to circumvent the law, which states landlords cannot withhold part of a deposit for "normal wear and tear."

Greene said she plans to pursue the matter in court.

“It's been a thorn in my flesh, and it's not about the money. It's the principle of the thing,” she said.

JP Realty IV, the parent corporation of Lenoxplace, has 10 complaints with the Better Business Bureau. The BBB gives the firm an unsatisfactory record because it hasn't responded to most of the complaints.

Some other landlord-tenant rights worth knowing:

  • Landlords have 30 days from the end of the lease to return the full deposit or give a written justification for deductions.
  • If a rental payment is five days or more late, the landlord can charge a late fee of either $15 dollars or 5 percent of the payment, whichever is greater.
  • Everyone who signs a lease is bound by its terms and is liable for damages.