COA: Lease damages not chargeable to tenant

A property management company sued by one of its tenants argued in court that it charged less than all the costs it incurred, but the Court of Appeals ordered the landlord to pay up, as a small claims court ruled.

In February 2016, Tameka Edwards signed a one-year lease on a house in Whitestown through Dorfman Property Management. Edwards agreed to pay monthly rent of $1,250, and she tendered a $2,500 security deposit to Dorfman.

Her lease specified that the “amount necessary to have the carpet professionally cleaned” would be deducted from that security deposit, as would amounts “reasonably required” to reimburse Dorfman for cleaning and repair in “all rooms in which Tenant shall have damaged or irreparably marked the walls.”

Several unresolved habitability issues arose during the length of her stay in the home, in which she obtained legal assistance twice against Dorfman’s charges for those issues. At the end of her lease, Edwards received a “Move Out/Deposit Report” listing expenses totaling $2,829.02. Dorfman retained the security deposit and demanded Edwards pay another $329.02.

Edwards and Dorfman both submitted photos of the interior of the home during testimony, the Boone Superior Court found that Edwards’ “cleaning could have been a bit more thorough” but there was a lack of “actual damage” to the rental property beyond ordinary wear and tear for which a landlord would expect to be responsible as a cost of doing business. Dorfman was ordered to refund $1,213.48 to Edwards.

The company argued that explicit terms of the lease entitled Dorfman to retain sums for professional cleaning and repainting of the entire house.

It also argued that the lease requires a tenant to leave the premises in move-in condition and if any identifiable scuffing, marks, dirt, or nail holes are found by Dorfman, then the tenant must fully reimburse costs of professionally cleaning and repainting for the entire room(s).

However, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court was not tasked with resolving an ambiguity in the lease, but rather with applying its terms in the face of conflicting evidence.

“Edwards testified that she had left the leased house in a clean and undamaged condition. Her evidentiary photographs, taken by her personally, were those found by the trial court to be ‘particularly persuasive,’ Judge Mark Bailey wrote Thursday.

“Finally, the trial court questioned Edwards concerning an ‘allegation of nail holes poorly repaired’ and Edwards responded she had left her nail holes patched and any inadequately repaired areas were ‘not hers.’”

The court concluded that there was no clear error in ordering Dorfman to return Edwards a portion of her security deposit in Dorfman Property Management v. Tameka Edwards, 06A01-1711-SC-2623.

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