Legal Question in Landlord & Tenant Law in Massachusetts

My question is from Massachusetts and relates to my landlord withholding $660 of my $1200 security deposit. This property is an apartment in a 3 family dwelling where I lived for 3 years. The realty agent is the owner’s mother. I am attempting to sue for bad faith and I have listed what I think is relevant below:

1. Realty agent gave us 30 days notice for a new lease which included a 25% rent increase

2. Realty agent agreed (in an email) on the owner’s behalf to accept my proposal that we would pay the last month’s rent over three days and thoroughly clean the apartment in exchange for the release of our security deposit within 1 week of our move-out. We kept our promise, they did not.

3. No condition of apartment was received at beginning of lease. I requested a pre-move out inspection and cleaning check list (in an email) and received neither.

4. After move-out, I followed up and the realty agent notified me that there were issues with the condition of the apartment. She forwarded me pictures that were taken several hours before we completed our move. No cleaning had been done. (I can prove that the pictures were taken before the move with my own pictures.)

5. I notified the owner about the situation and he defended his mother. He said I left the apartment in “unrentable” condition and that I would be charged for the damage. He also admitted that he had not actually seen the condition of the apartment except from the pictures.

6. I made several demands (in emails) for my deposit.

7. I arranged a dispute meeting and inspection. I brought a witness and calmly explained why the alleged damage resulted from 3 years wear and tear, pre-existing conditions, or design flaws. The owner and realty agent were irate. No thing was resolved.

8. The owner sent an itemized list with no receipts or estimates and $540 of my security deposit.

9. The main issues outlined in the itemized list are:

a. A stain on a granite counter top. The counters were never sealed and, after 3 years, became susceptible to staining from regular use. I have expert testimony from the owner of a granite refurbishment company.

b. Damaged wood floors. There is one inch diameter spot in the kitchen I could not remove (it’s a substance ground into the floor). Other than that, the floors are in good condition for three years of wear and tear.

c. There are several other small items that I believe I can easily refute with evidence.

I am preparing to make final demand letter for the $660 that was withheld. These are my questions: Do I have a good case for a bad faith argument? Can I sue for damages? Would damages be twice the withheld amount or would damages be twice the full deposit? I purchased Nolo’s, Everyone’s Guide to Small Claims Court and it has been very helpful but hasn’t answered these questions for me. I appreciated any help!

Asked on 9/20/13, 8:00 am

1 Answer from Attorneys

James Thomas Kinder Law Office of James Thomas Kinder

Thank you for your question.

From the facts you've presented, it appears as though your landlord, and the agent, are acting in bad faith.

In your lease, is there a provision exempting normal wear and tear from recovery trhough the security deposit? Also, did you receive proof of deposit of the security deposit into a separate, interest bbearing account at the onset of your original lease? At the onset of your original lease, did the Landlord provide you with a statement of conditions at the property, outlining existing damage, and giving you an opportunity to inspect and list any additional existing damage? if not, then the Landlord may be in violation of M.G.L. Chapter 186 Sec. 15 -- which governs security deposits in Massachusetts.

It certainly appears as though, based upon the facts thus far, that the Landlord is being unreasonable. However, and in relation to the Security Deposit issues, you may have a few chips to play in the negotiations of this matter. If they continue to refuse to return your security deposit, please feel free to contact my office.

I hope this helps.

Best of luck to you.

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Answered on 9/20/13, 8:33 am

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