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Call 11 For Action investigates renting, landlords, and securing your deposit

(Toledo News Now) -

Local attorneys say it's an expensive problem.

"For re-painting, we were charged $50.00," D.J. Seals-Griffith said as moved her finger down the list. "For carpet cleaning, we were billed $120.00. And for a broken tile, we were charged $90.00. That was for one tile. I mean, it was just little things that I thought weren't adding up.

Seals-Griffith showed WTOL 11 the letters and bills she received from her landlord in Bowling Green. Last year, she was expecting to have her security deposit of $1,000.00 returned to her. She says she cleaned the property and left it in the same condition it was in when she moved in – she even had pictures as proof. But Seals-Griffith's landlord said she disagreed, and tried to keep $740.20 of the deposit.

"When you're renting from someone, you can feel like they have all the power," Seals-Griffith said. "So I think without being experienced with dealing with landlords, then you can be intimidated."

But she was not intimidated. Instead, this Bowling Green State University student went to the school's legal services department. Attorneys there say losing a security deposit can have huge consequences.

"The money part can be the difference between a student attending next semester or not," managing attorney Rodney Fleming said. "Because many times landlords will not only keep your deposits, but they'll attempt to recover thousands of dollars in additional damages from the tenant."

The Ohio Landlord-Tenant Act says in some cases, it is against the law for a landlord to keep a tenant's security deposit. The landlord can only hold onto that money if the tenant damaged the property beyond normal wear and tear.  Fleming explained the concept to WTOL 11.
"Let's say the carpet has been professionally clean before you moved in," he said. "Part of what you're paying for is to use that carpet and walk on it…so if you sweep it up, and there aren't stains on the property, just because you've used it and now perhaps it doesn't look as nice, that doesn't mean the landlord has been damaged."

That doesn't stop some landlords from trying to take your money. Records from the Better Business Bureau show 55 percent of complaints filed against landlords over the last three years came from student tenants. WTOL 11 dug even deeper and tracked complaints from the BBB, The University of Toledo, and BGSU over the last five years. Attorneys did not reveal specific information about cases.

The UT and BGSU areas had a combined total of 817 complaints from students. 48 percent of UT's complaints were about landlords holding deposits and trying to collect additional money for repairs. Landlords and attorneys point out that a complaint does not necessarily mean the landlord is at fault. In fact, property managers say sometimes students damage their apartments and even leave them looking like this. However, attorneys say young people need to be careful they don't become targets.

"I think it comes from the fact that a lot of times, [it's the] first time away from home," UT Student Legal Services managing attorney Charlon Dewberry said. "Everybody in the world is not going to be upfront with you. And there unfortunately are going to be some people that are going to take advantage of you. Knowing what your rights are and what your responsibilities are is kind of a good way to keep from being intimidated.

WTOL 11's investigation revealed the landlords with the most complaints from students over the last five years are Falcon's Pointe, Greenbriar, Inc., and Copper Beech Townhomes. These are all companies that manage a large number of rental units. Attorneys say they've sat down with most of the landlords in the area to discuss issues with students. They also say there are landlords in the area who have a relatively low number of complaints, even though they own many rental units. The two with the lowest number of complaints are Mecca Management and John Newlove Real Estate.

"I think that landlords or management companies go through cycles just like any other business," Dewberry explained. "You will have situations where employees are not well-versed in landlord-tenant law. And so maybe for awhile, until someone explains to them that that's not the way it's handled, or you can't legally do that, then they will go down one path….you can sometimes see where maybe, let's say, ‘Um, last year, didn't that landlord say they had to replace the carpet? OK, so why are they suddenly charging THIS tenant for it?' After awhile, some of those addresses kind of become familiar to you."

We called the landlords with the most complaints to hear what they had to say. Copper Beech and Falcon's Pointe said they would call us back. Greenbriar Management gave WTOL 11 the following statement: "We bend over backwards to serve our tenants well. We encourage students to seek legal counsel and use any resources available to them. The vast majority of our students are very good people, but not all of them are always responsible."

Attorneys say most of these cases can be resolved with a written request and a face-to-face talk. Sometimes, there's a misunderstanding that doesn't take long to sort out. But sometimes, students do what Seals-Griffith did – go to court to get that security deposit back.
"I thought, she's probably done this before and nobody fought it," she said about her landlord. "So maybe, you know, I was the first person to say, ‘OK, no that's not happening.' And to challenge her."

WTOL 11 went through Bowling Green Municipal Court Records for Falcon's Pointe, Copper Beech, and Greenbriar, Inc. Since 2005, Copper Beech has been in court ten times and Greenbriar has been in court seven times. Falcon's Pointe has no court history, but the property appeared under different management three times. Most of those cases settled. Out of the remaining cases, 83 percent ended with students getting their money back.

That's what happened to Seals-Griffith. In fact, she got more – her landlord wrote a check for $2,185.83. Attorneys say they see those situations frequently.

"The tenant has leverage," Rodney Fleming said. "If you take your case to court and win, you get double your money back…the legislature feels like it's not a level playing field between landlords and tenants. Landlords have your money, and it's technically a deposit so technically you own that money. They want to encourage landlords to give it back."

Fleming says Seals-Griffith was able to get her money back because she was prepared and knew her rights.

"When you first sign a lease, everyone is happy and friendly," Fleming said. "The landlord is happy to have you, the tenant is happy to have the apartment. So no one at that point really thinks to protect that deposit money."

BGSU Student Legal Services

Ohio Landlord-Tenant Act

UT  Student Legal Services

Tips for students to protect themselves: (from attorneys at BGSU and UT Student Legal Services)

  • Read your lease carefully if you sign it. You can bring it to Student Legal Services or your own attorney to look it over.
  • Become familiar with the Ohio Landlord-Tenant Act. It is important for you to understand your rights and responsibilities BEFORE you move in. Also read up on local zoning laws.
  • Take pictures of your apartment before you move in. Make sure the pictures have time stamps.
  • Walk through it with a landlord before you move in and write down any dents, scratches, and stains.
  • While you are living in your apartment, put all communication between your landlord and yourself in writing. Keep every letter and document.
  • Treat the property with respect. Keep it clean and avoid damaging it.
  • When it is time to move out, clean your apartment thoroughly. Try to fix and replace broken items yourself – it will be less expensive than if your landlord has to do it.
  • Once you are moved out, as your landlord if he or she will walk through the property with you. This gives you times to fix any problems.
  • Take pictures of everything once you have moved out so you can compare them to the pictures you took before you moved in. Make sure the pictures have time stamps.
  • After you move out, your landlord has 30 days to either send you your security deposit or an itemized bill showing why he or she kept some of it. Keep an eye out for these documents and save them.
  • If your landlord returns part of your security deposit and you plan to fight for more, do not cash the check your landlord sent you.
  • If you and your landlord cannot come to an agreement, seek legal advice.

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