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NC Tenant Security Deposits


I'm going to TRY to make this brief. This is a very complex issue, and I think in large part because many people don't take the time to understand the positions of others. This goes for managers, tenants, and owners alike. We're all very protective of our money, and we never want to lose any of it; especially when we work so darn hard for it day in and day out. As the saying goes, there are two sides to every story, so here it is from the manager perspective.


As you should recall, the lease agreement you have is between you and your property owner. The manager is the intermediary, and represents the owners' interests. Still, the manager and owner must remain in compliance with all applicable laws.


Tenant Security Deposit law is fairly vague. While there are some cut and dry elements to it, the main issue is the phrase, "reasonable wear and tear." This comes into play given the time frame a tenant has lived in a property, and the property's condition at the tenant's move out. Sometimes, it's pretty easy for a manager or owner: they were there for a year, and no significant damages were done, it's reasonably clean, so give them the full deposit back. If only it were that way 100% of the time!


All of this is predicated on the comparison of your move in inspection to that of your move out inspection. Managers handle these in a multitude of different ways. Your job is to ask the questions: what kind of inspection do you do, what information is shared with me, and what are your recommendations to help me look after my own interests. We as agents have to be honest and fair, so our responses should be just so.


As a note: not all managers work with in house maintenance. Some do, but many don't in my area of Fayetteville, in particular. So they are at the mercy of the vendors' schedules for estimates. As such, depending on the condition of the house, this can take a couple of weeks to receive in return. This is most often why your deposit takes so long to process. Sometimes the damages aren't clear as to how they should be appropriately handled. For instance: a hole in a wall will need to be repaired/mudded/repainted. Well, the wall was newly painted at move in only 6 months ago, so should be in perfect condition, but we don't have matching paint on hand, and to touch it up, the whole wall now needs to be painted, which actually means the whole room needs repainting, in order for it all to match, according to the vendor. So, where do you draw the line? It's not always so easy.


Additionally, the manager works for the owner. So taking that painting example into perspective: what if the owner indicates to the manager they want to withhold the entire deposit to have the whole room repainted. The manager doesn't agree with it, discloses why they don't agree with it to the owner, but the owner makes that demand. Guess what the manager has to do: use the whole deposit to paint the room. The reason: the property manager is not a licensed attorney, and therefore cannot interpret the law to determine if the owner is in the right or the wrong in this case, and therefore, must obey the owner's reasonable direction. If the third party vendor, the professional, says the whole room needs repainting, that's his area of expertise, and the owner is reasonably following it, therefore reasonably holding the deposit.


That example stinks for the property manager, right? They're doing as their client directs, but the tenant certainly doesn't see it the same way. They just see think the manager is stealing their money! And you know, from their shoes, I can't say I blame them. The main take away here is the issue may not be with the manager; they may just be following orders. Remember, again, the lease is between the tenant and owner, and the manager is the middle man who gives professional advice to the owner. That's it.


In the event you find the deposit going towards charges which are not, in your opinion, warranted, your best advice is to consult an attorney. Seriously. And don't just go to any civil attorney. Go to one that has experience with landlord tenant law, and tenant security deposit law. I can't tell you how many cases I've seen or heard of being thrown out, purely because the attorney had no experience in this field! It may definitely be worth the fight. Just make sure you're fighting smarter not harder. Plus, there are even times, and your manager would never tell you this, that the manager wishes a tenant would fight because the manager may think the owner is in the wrong, but the owner refuses to listen to the manager.


Remember also to read your lease agreement, and see if there are any duties to which you are held responsible for at move out, such as carpet cleaning, spraying for fleas if you have pets, etc. If there's no clear direction, just ask your manager. They'd much rather tell you the expectation, than to have you guess and anger you over your deposit later.


Last, don't beat your property manager up too bad. Talk with them rather than attack them. Ask questions. I promise they are actually very caring and understanding, and the good ones will take their time to talk with you and make sure you're clear on understanding. You just have to make sure you ask them for clarification if and when you need it.


Your deposit should be returned to you within 30 days of surrendering possession. Doesn't matter if you gave your notice 45 days ago. It all matters when the manager first has access to the property to conduct the inspection. Sometimes, because we rely on the schedules of others, your manager may need more than 30 days to complete your deposit refund. When that happens you should have a list of charges they are considering against your deposit in that moment. IT doesn't necessarily mean they are going to charge all those items against you; just where they are in the process. They then have an additional 30 days to wrap it up and get you the final documentation and refund due, if applicable.


You're always welcome to ask where they are in the process. You may not get a long drawn out answer, but they can at least tell you if they have done the inspection, and that they're waiting on estimates, or a particular estimate, or whatever the case may be for them at that moment.


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