Can I take mylandlord or the property management company to court?

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Can I take mylandlord or the property management company to court?

My lease agreement stated an early termination fee to cover advertising and commissions but it did not state an amount. We gave the management company more than 30 days notice and the new tenants moved in the day after we moved out. They charged me a $975 fee for the early termination. I asked them to give me proof of their accounting for this and they did not. It’s been over 21 days and we received all of our deposit minus the $975 and a letter stating what great renters we were. Weren’t they legally required to send proof of how they used the $975 and isn’t that an excessive amount since we were in the last month of the lease?

Asked on November 8, 2011 under Real Estate Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

The issue isn't whether it is "excessive"--if you agreed to pay advertising and commissions, and the advertising and commissions came to $975, that's what you should pay. There are two different issues here, however:

1) Unless the early termination fee was called "rent" or "additional rent," it's not clear they could take it out of the security deposit; the security deposit is only for unpaid rent or damage to the premises. Other amounts which you may owe the landlord are amounts it would have to seek in court.

2) If the landlord could take the early termination fee out of the security deposit, it then would have to prove that amount to you, the same as it would have to prove the cost of repairs.

If you believe that the landlord and/or management company has improperly withheld money from you, you may sue them in court and force them to at least justify what they took. Bringing the action in small claims court (so you don't have to pay a lawyer's fees) may be a good option.


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