Question: I have been renting an apartment, and my lease will expire at the end of November. I have taken a job out of this area, and expect to begin my new position on November 1 of this year. My landlord has a security deposit which is equivalent to one month’s rent. Should I pay for November since I will not be living in the apartment? The landlord will not be hurt, since she can use my security deposit for the November rent. Should I discuss the situation with my landlord?
Answer: The landlord-tenant relationship should not be antagonistic. There is no reason for a landlord and a tenant to get into constant fights and arguments over every conceivable issue affecting the rental property.
However, unfortunately, this is the situation in too many cases. The landlord often presents unreasonable demands, and the tenant counters with his/her own unreasonable requests.
We have to start any landlord discussion with a review of the lease. In every landlord-tenant arrangement, there should be a written document, which is called a “lease.” Once it is signed by the landlord (or the agent) and the tenant, this becomes a legally binding document on all parties who signed it.
Thus, it is important for tenants to thoroughly read (and understand) the lease before signing. Typically, however, it is my experience that most tenants do not bother to review the lease before it is signed. It is only when a problem arises does the lease begin to be scrutinized, and often that is too late.
The security deposit is an amount of money — generally one month’s rent — which a tenant gives the landlord upon signing of the lease. This deposit — which in some jurisdictions must be kept by the landlord in an interest-bearing account — is not to be used for the last month’s rent. It is used to pay any damages which the tenant may have caused to the property during the tenancy.
Landlord-tenant laws differ all over this country; some are stronger than others. In fact, the landlord-tenant laws in the District of Columbia are considered perhaps the most tenant-friendly in the United States. It is to be noted that this article is addressing residential tenancies; there are different procedures (and laws) impacting commercial leases.
You have suggested you want your landlord to use your security deposit for the last month’s rent. I cannot recommend this under any circumstances.
What will happen if the landlord finds damages in your apartment, which were caused by you — i.e., your movers put a hole in a wall or your dog ripped a screen door? Your monthly rent is $1650 and your security deposit is in the same amount. If it costs the landlord $500 to make the repairs, this leaves the landlord only $1150 to be applied to your November rent.
Thus, your actions may cost the landlord to lose money. Contrary to what a lot of people believe, many landlords are not wealthy individuals, and any monetary loss they incur is significant.
You probably believe your landlord will not spend the time — or the money — filing a lawsuit against you for this small amount of money. This may be true. However, the landlord has this right, and one day you may find there is a judgement against you because you failed to appear in court.
More significantly, your landlord can create credit problems for you — which problems can continue to haunt you for a number of years. The landlord can report your delinquency to credit reporting companies, and any lawsuit which is filed may also be picked up by these credit bureaus.
It is not a pleasant experience to explain to a banker or a department store — several years after the incident — why you failed to pay your legal rental obligations.
I cannot recommend you skip your last month’s payment; it is just not worth the subsequent problems — and hassles — you may encounter. Also, assuming you have a conscience, you should recognize that you may have financially hurt another human being.
However, I strongly recommend you discuss the situation immediately with your landlord. He/she may be understanding, and may even be willing to give back your security deposit if the property can be rented out immediately.
The landlord-tenant relationship should be amicable. Communication between the parties is a crucial factor in determining whether the arrangement will be friendly or hostile.