Do landlords and tenants really understand their entitlement to the security deposit?

When Lacey Wilson moved out of her apartment a month and a half ago, she expected a smooth process in the final dealings with her landlord. What she got was a fight over the $950 security deposit that continues to this day.

“I was rather surprised,” Wilson said. “Nobody had told me this was happening.”

When Wilson moved into her now former apartment, she paid the security deposit, plus an extra $500 for her two cats. She agreed that the terms were fair.

It wasn’t until her plans of moving out that she had problems. Wilson tried staying in communication with her landlord in the midst of her moving out and while he was away on vacation.

 They made an agreement to delay the move-out inspection – which would decide how much of the security deposit each should receive – until his return.

However, when Wilson arrived for her inspection she found her former apartment was a construction zone. The carpets had been ripped to shreds and the explanation was she had moved out leaving “irreparable” damage to the carpet.

Because of this, her former landlord withheld the entire security deposit.Lacey Wilson is one of many tenants in Alberta whose landlord wouldn’t return her $975 damage deposit. Rules demand check in and check out lists.

Photo by Kassidy Christensen

Wilson’s story is not uncommon. A dispute between tenants and landlords is an alarming issue within the province – the Residential Tenancy Act recorded 62,520 complaint calls made between 2008 and 2013 with issues regarding security deposits making up 6,249 calls.

The Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS) is a court dedicated to the ‘smaller’ disputes. Serving as a real court, mediators can make court decisions, and serves both landlord and tenant claims, giving them the opportunity to fight for what they think they are entitled to.

It alone also received an exponential amount of calls since 2010, exploding from 2,174 calls to 8,350 in 2013. Service Alberta confirmed to the Calgary Journal these numbers are not tracked for specific issues.

The move-in and move-out checklists are crucial components outlined in the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) handbook, which all landlords must adhere to in their lease. It states the landlord and tenant must do each inspection within a week and the landlord provides a written document to be signed by both.

Gabriel Chen, Homeless Outreach Lawyer said it’s a landlord’s market.

“A lot of time it is over whether there are damages or whether cleaning is required after the tenant has moved out,” he said. “If there isn’t a dispute over if there is some needed, then it is over the amount.”

But what if the landlord has an irresponsible tenant? What are their rights?

Michael Guyette, vice president of operations for Boardwalk, said one of the resources landlords can also depend on is the Calgary Residential Rental Apartment Association.

“I wish I had known to call the Tenancy Board right away. When I was filling out all the paper work I thought (the landlord) was already doing everything by the book. I guess he was just not aware of the situation as much as I thought he would be.”

– Lacey Wilson, tenant

As a major landlord, Boardwalk must adhere to Service Alberta’s guidelines for landlords.

“Every landlord needs to understand what he or she can and cannot do in regards to security deposits,” Guyette said.

“As a large landlord we understand that each of our sights is managed by an individual so we provide them with enough information that gives them direction so they know what they should and what they can’t do.”

Wilson herself was not fully educated on how security deposits work.

“I had always been under the impression that the damage deposit is in case there is damage to the apartment, so that after you move out that they go ahead and apply that and you receive the difference if there is any left,” Wilson said.

Guyette explains that Boardwalk has a set of standards and one of the key things they do is provide proof through photography of the conditions of the apartment before and after.

If a dispute arises, he said, showing the pictures is often enough for the tenant to back down.

“Some people think that they are good cleaners, but in reality they might not be cleaning as well as they think.”

Through her experience, Wilson said she feels more informed now about what she’s entitled to as a tenant.

“I wish I had known to call the Tenancy Board right away,” she said. “When I was filling out all the paper work I thought (the landlord) was already doing everything by the book. I guess he was just not aware of the situation as much as I thought he would be.

“I think it should be more clear to landlords everywhere that if there is an issue to just go straight to the Tenancy Board.”

kbrown@cjournal.ca