Day 0: My Rage Knows No Bounds

I came home from work on Friday to find a letter from our former landlord, Steve Misrack. In it I expected to find the return of our security deposit for the house we were living minus a few expenses. We had put down a $2,000 security deposit for 1371 Norman Dr. What I found when I opened the letter was a shock to say the least.

This man has billed us for $3,237.81 in cleaning and repair costs, minus the security deposit leaves us in debt to him for $1,237.81.

The list of costs associated include such delights as:

  1. $300 in cleaning costs (cleaning the kitchen, bathroom, floors, etc.) I did this myself in the week leading up to the end of our lease. The list includes such ridiculous things as: cleaning fireplaces, sweeping the sidewalk out on the side of the house, cleaning the insides of windows, etc.
  2. $410 in cleaning costs. You read that correctly. After having someone come in and clean the whole house for $300, he hired another person to come in and clean the carpets in the house (which were steam-cleaned by us prior to moving out) for an addition $513 (less a $103 “discount”.)
  3. He claims we damaged a piece of flooring in the family room. He says it cannot be repaired and will cost $3,300 to be replaced. He did not provide us with a copy of the estimate for this work. He is depreciating 1/2 the cost and forcing us to pay the remaining $1650. He says he will opt not to repair or replace. He will just charge us half and keep it.
  4. He charged us $504.77 for parts and labor of fixing up the house. There are no receipts included, just a word processor printout listing a bunch of materials that a handyman had to go buy. We are being charged for such things as: replacing mini-blinds, purchasing new light bulbs for the exterior and interior of the house, new mirrors, a new towel bar, and all of the associated labor of these things with no per hour breakdowns.
  5. The final month’s utility bill of $373.04. The questionably legal upstairs unit (see below) pays 10% of the total utility bill while we payed 90% of the utility bill.

Now we come to the legal question. I know we have the greatest collection of legal minds on this site (and the only ones I know personally). My question is this: there are TWO living units at 1371 Norman Dr. There are separate leases for each unit. Yet there is only one utility bill for the whole house which goes to the landlord. He then divides the bill into 10% (upstairs) and 90% (downstairs) portions and forces us to remit payment to him personally. Often we would get the bill from him less than 2 weeks before he said payment was due (in one case we received the bill 2 days prior to the due date). My question is twofold:

  1. Is it legal to have more than one rental unit at the same address? The upstairs tenant is not 1371 1/2 Norman or anything like that. He and us had the same address, with the same utility bill. Is that legal?
  2. Building upon that, is it legal for Steve to have all utility bills come to him personally, and then force us to remit payment to him on his personal timetable?

I think we have been royally screwed here and I continually asked him about the expected state of the house on move out. I am 100% positive that he has acted in bad faith and I want to nail his legal nuts to the wall here by any means necessary. Please help me, Legal Dept. I beg of you.

Here are some relevant links to California Tenant/Landlord law:
California Department of Consumer Affairs
Security Deposit Section of Above Site

Below is the draft of the LETTER OF DEMAND that I will be sending out on Monday via certified mail with receipt:

Zachery Moneypenny
**** ****** Ave
San Jose, CA 9****

Steve Misrack
11 Pinewood Ct.
San Mateo, CA 94403

Regarding: 1371 Norman Drive Security Deposit

On Friday, December 10th, 2004 we recieved a letter postmarked Dec. 9th, 2004. In the envelope was a letter describing the alleged damages and cleaning of the 1371 Norman Drive property, a debit/credit sheet listing our security desposit and the cost of the alleged costs and estimates of labor/materials used or estimated, an incomplete copy of the move-in checklist (it includes only a checklist for the family room and kitchen — not the bedrooms, dining room, etc.), your standard “bill” for the final month of utilities divided along the 10% unregistered upstairs unit portion and the 90% downstairs main unit portion, a “contractors invoice” for the cleaning work done by Rich Lorenzo, what appears to be a contractor’s description of fix-up work done by Jim Chitwood, and an invoice from The Carpet Butler for $410 worth of redundant carpet cleaning work.

In the aforementioned cover letter explaining the costs, you go on to explain the alleged damage to the wood floor in the family room and the estimated costs associated. You mention that Step Ahead Carpet and Flooring provided an estimate of $3,300 for fixing 330 sq ft of wood floor. However, there was no copy of that estimate included in the paperwork sent. I do not consider the collection of line item costs and estimates complete without the floor estimate, which comprises almost half of the alleged costs. In addition, I demand receipts for all materials purchased and per hour breakdowns for all labor, which I believe I am entitled to by California law. Understandably, I cannot make a decision on how to further proceed without seeing that estimate or the actual receipts for the $3,237.81 in goods and services which you have billed me for. Furthermore, I do not consider the paperwork you have sent so far complete and do not consider myself within the 30 day payment window as of yet as I do not have access to all the needed information.

I’d like to point out that we were due a full list of all receipts and estimates within 21 days of the end of our lease. I write this letter on Saturday, Dec. 11th, 2004, one day after receiving your incomplete list of receipts and estimates (postmarked Dec. 9th, 2004) and 19 days after the end of our lease (Nov. 21st, 2004). Please send us the complete list of receipts and estimates along with a new timetable for possible repayment, should we decide that everything is in order. When we receive the full list of costs associated with the goods and services you say are owed to you, we will decide how to proceed from there.

Good day,

Zachery Moneypenny

Anyone have any actionable advice? I’m fairly certain that this will end up in small claims court before the end of things, but I want to make sure I have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning before starting the process. Thanks in advance for anything that the Whazzmaster Army can provide. FLY MY PRETTIES! DO MY BIDDING!

On an unrelated note, can anyone give me sound advice about libel laws as they would pertain to, say, registering a website called and filling it with my point of view of this ordeal? I’d like a central repository of information about a landlord whose response, when told that there are cockroaches in the house, is “heh, I’m surprised they bother you. you know, in the south people just live with them in their homes!

–fuck everything, we’re going to five blades…

5 thoughts on “Day 0: My Rage Knows No Bounds

  1. Well, O’Neill, I’m going to leave the legal advice up to you on this one considering A) I don’t have Property until next semester; and B) I don’t need to get in trouble for legal malpractice just quite yet, especially because I won’t even have a chance at a license for another 2 and 1/2 years. Go get ’em, Moneypenny; don’t let the slumlords grind you down. Do you still have your lease? May want to give that old thing a read over.

  2. Scientist is sending me the lease ASAP, but the question remains: what is legal for him to do and what is not. Becayse we signed the lease, does that make his (questionalbly) i;egal unit legal? I am drunl. sorry. moe tomotrrow.

  3. Just because you have a written and signed contract doesn’t mean a whole lot if parts of the lease are illegal. For example, some leases in Madison have a term that you are responsible for having the carpets professionally cleased before move out, but a Madison city ordinance that makes a term for carpet cleaning unenforceable.

    You should probably call the city’s building inspector or the code administration. You can ask them and they can probably tell you right off the top of their head.

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