Landlord Tenant Q&A with CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Q. I recently vacated a rental property that I lived in for many years. I complied with all of the requirements for cleaning, both interior and professional carpet cleaning. When I received the refund of my security deposit in the mail, I was charged 4 extra days rent, plus the cost of replacing the lock on the back door to the house. I never used this door and misplaced the keys, I explained that to the landlord the day I checked out. I don’t feel that this is my responsibility; after all I was there for a very long time, left the place clean, did not do any damage and I always paid my rent on time. Can my landlord really charge me rent plus a locksmith charge because of a few missing keys?
A. Yes, from your description those are valid charges. Security deposit refunds comprise approximately half of all the complaints received by the Real Estate Commission concerning rental management. I believe most of the problems arise from both landlord and tenant not having a clear understanding of the laws and the lease and not reviewing those items as tenancy nears an end. Hawaii Revised Statutes 521-44 and the Hawaii Association of Realtors Standard Lease Section D-2 both clearly state that the landlord is entitled to replace locks if keys are not returned and that the tenant is responsible for the rent until all requirements of the contract are completed.
As far as the rent goes, the landlord could have considered you a “holdover” tenant and charged you double the rent for the days that the keys were not returned or it took to get the lock changed. Holdover tenancy is discussed in Hawaii Revised Statutes 521-71 and the Standard Lease Section C-4. The lease specifically addresses the issue you brought up “If TENANT stays in the unit after this Rental Agreement is ended, the TENANT will be considered a HOLDOVER TENANT and shall be liable for twice the monthly rent under this Rental Agreement on a prorated daily basis for each day TENANT is a HOLDOVER TENANT. Staying in the unit after this Rental Agreement, includes but is not limited to, TENANT’S failure or refusal to do the following BY THE DAY TENANT’S TENANCY ENDS: to return all the keys to the Unit to LANDLORD…”.
So your landlord may have taken into account that you were a great tenant for a long time and not considered you a Holdover Tenant as he did not charge double the rent.
Security deposits are required to be returned no later than 14 days after vacancy. If you do not return keys for 4 days, then the 14 day deposit clock starts after the keys are returned (or locks changed). Landlords are responsible to provide tenants with copies of all receipts for expenses that were deducted from their deposits. Landlords need to make an effort to get any necessary work done. Should it take more than 14 days to perform any work, a written estimate must be provided to the tenant with an explanation of why the deposit is being withheld. The 14 day requirement is defined as being postmarked by midnight the 14th day after vacancy, not received by the 14th day. If a landlord does not handle the refunding of the deposit within the strict timeframe of the Statute, a tenant may be awarded triple their deposit amount. There are consequences for parties on both ends of the lease for not complying with the Statute and the lease agreement.
As I always try to reinforce, communication is a key to a good landlord-tenant relationship. You knew the keys were misplaced; it doesn’t sound like you intended any harm or ill will toward your landlord. However, had you let the landlord know in advance of the checkout about the missing keys, you would have avoided the additional rent by getting the lock changed earlier. As far as leaving the unit clean; it sounds as if you were obligated in your lease to do so. I doubt most landlords would give you extra consideration for what you contractually agreed to do in the first place. It is very helpful as a landlord to visit a property shortly before a tenant vacates to look first hand for damage, to ask if everything is working, to physically see if anything may have been overlooked and avoid surprises. Communication and understanding of the contractual obligations of both the landlord and the tenant go a long way to prevent misunderstandings, hard feelings and money spent in court.
Answers to questions in Landlord Tenant Q&A are provided by members of the Oahu Chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM), an organization that supports the professional and ethical practices of rental home management through networking, education, and certification. The Oahu Chapter, founded in 2004, has become the largest in the nation with 237 registered members.
Disclaimer: The answers provided in this column by Realtors address individual cases and should not be construed as interpretations of the law. For specific information on Hawaii State Law, go to http:// hawaii.gov/dcca/areas/ocp/landlord_tenant or contact an attorney.