CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Broker-In Charge, Callahan Realty, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter National Association of Residential Property Managers
I recently vacated a rental property that I lived in for several years. I complied with all the requirements for cleaning, including the interior and professional carpet cleaning. I was notified by my landlord that I was being charged for two extra days rent, plus the cost of replacing the lock on the mailbox. Over the years I never used the mailbox, I had a P.O. Box at the Post Office and I guess I lost the keys — honestly, I forgot there even were keys. I feel that this is extreme. After all I was there for a long time and left the place clean and took care of it while I lived there. Can my landlord really charge me rent because of a few missing keys?
Security deposit refunds are the subject of about half of all the complaints received by the Real Estate Commission concerning rental management. Most of the problems arise because of lack of clear understanding of the laws and/or the lease on the part of both landlord and tenant. Hawaii Revised Statutes 521-44 and the Standard Lease Section M both clearly state that the landlord is entitled to replace locks if keys are not returned. 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 that it took to get the lock changed. Holdover tenancy is discussed in Hawaii Revised Statutes 521-71 and the Standard Lease Section H. Simply stated, a holdover tenant is one who stays in the unit beyond the agreed upon date of vacancy or legal notification to vacate. “Stays in the unit” also covers failure to return keys, not cleaning, leaving personal items behind, and completing repairs due to damage by the tenant. Security deposits are required to be returned no later than 14 days after the tenant vacates. If you do not return keys for two days, then the 14 day deposit clock starts after the keys are returned. If you did not return the keys at check-out as you should have, the landlord must arrange for a locksmith to come out. If you live in a condominium, this can require coordination with the Post Office to open the bank of mailboxes to change a lock, thereby causing delays. Landlords are responsible for providing tenants with copies of all receipts for expenses that were deducted from their deposits. 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 time frame of the statute, it is possible a tenant may be awarded triple their deposit amount.
As I always emphasize, communication is key to a good landlord-tenant relationship. Had you let the landlord know in advance of the check-out 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. Most landlords would not give extra consideration for what you contractually agreed to do in the first place. It is helpful (but not mandatory) as a landlord to visit a property shortly before a tenant vacates to look first-hand for damage and ask if everything is working, specifically is there anything they may have overlooked, the objective being to avoid surprises at check-out. Communication and understanding of the contractual obligations of both the landlord and the tenant go a long way toward preventing 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 175 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.