Security deposits can offer protection for landlords

Mailbag

May 31, 1998

Dear Mr. Azrael:

I'm having a nightmare problem with a condo that I rented out through the Coast Guard.

The tenant (and child) moved out last month, and left me with around $5,000 worth of damages (per estimates I've gotten from contractors).

I now have no rental income.

My real estate agent can't even list it in the horrible condition it is in -- stained carpets, a hole in the porcelain bowl of the toilet, burn marks through a towel rack, holes in the wall, a sliding glass door that needs to be replaced, etc.

I would appreciate any help you might be able to give.

Robin D. Cwalina

Severna Park

Dear Ms. Cwalina:

You are not the first unfortunate landlord who has been victimized by a destructive tenant. The best way for you and other landlords to protect themselves is to carefully check out the prospective tenant's references and credit history before leasing valuable property.

Requiring a reasonable security deposit from the tenant also affords protection. Also, it makes sense to stop by your property on a regular basis to see if it is being respected by the tenant.

A landlord who requires an application fee or a security deposit must comply with all state and local laws regulating residential leases.

For example, in Maryland, a landlord may not impose a security deposit in excess of two months' rent per dwelling unit, regardless of the number of tenants.

The landlord must give a receipt for the security deposit, and the receipt or written lease must advise the tenant of his or her right to receive a written list of all existing damage.

The security deposit must be kept in a separate bank account. At the end of the tenancy, the security deposit, with interest at 4 percent per year, must be returned to the tenant within 45 days, less any rightfully withheld for damage.

The landlord has to give the tenant written notice by first-class mail within 30 days after termination of the tenancy of a written list of damages claimed.

A landlord who fails to send a list of damages forfeits any right to the security deposit.

A landlord who fails to return a security deposit as required can be held liable by the tenant for up to three times the withheld amount, plus attorney's fees.

Questions?

The Sun invites you to send real estate questions to Mailbag. Questions will be answered by Jonathan A. Azrael, principal at Azrael, Gann and Franz, a Towson firm with a concentration in real estate law.

Questions can be sent in the following ways:

Mailing address: Real Estate Mailbag, Fifth Floor, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md., 21278-0001. Fax: 410-783-2517. E-mail: real.estataltsun.com

Our Sundial audio-response number: 410-783-1800. Enter code 6170 after the greeting.

Pub Date: 5/31/98

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