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Archive for Monday, October 5, 1998

MANY RESOURCES AVAILABLE FOR LANDLORD-TENANT DISPUTES

October 5, 1998

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In Lawrence, there are hundreds of squabbles every year over security deposits, rent payments and housing maintenance.

Two nail holes in a wall cost $50. The faucet leaks.

The carpet was ruined. The rent is late.

Like most towns, Lawrence is full of stories of evil landlords and destructive tenants. Stories abound about tenants doing thousands of dollars of damage, and landlords only steps above slumlords. Though many stories may be exaggerated or just isolated cases, there are hundreds of disputes a year over damages, repairs and who's responsible. Good communication can help smooth the difficulties, though, agencies say.

Tenants' troubles

Amber Henry, 22, a Kansas University business student, and her roommate rented a house on Homewood for the fall. Only a few months after moving in, she has moved out and gotten a lawyer.

``We looked at the house back in spring, and I'm sure there were some signs,'' she said. There were probably water spots on the ceiling, but she didn't notice. When they moved in, though, they realized the roof leaked -- everywhere.

``The more we looked, the more we could tell there was water damage on every single ceiling,'' she said. After several weeks, she said, someone was sent to fix the roof. While it was being repaired, a storm came through town, dousing much of the house.

Books, clothes and furniture were damaged.

``We had brown water on everything,'' she said. ``I got a lawyer and an inspector. We didn't have trouble getting out of the lease.''

But they haven't been paid any damages for their lost property.

``We're still arguing over it,'' she said. ``I've missed tons of class, I've missed work. At this point, I just want to get settled.''

The experience, she said, has taught her a lot about being wary, though.

``Talk to the landlord,'' she said. ``Ask them what they did between tenants. Don't move in before the things are fixed.''

Landlord problems

Rhonda Dahlquest with Morning Star Management runs 60 rentals.

``The majority of our tenants pay their rent on time,'' she said. ``Out of so many tenants, I usually have 10 I have to go after every month, so I consider myself lucky. But it is usually the same 10.''

Though the majority of the tenants pose no problems, she said, a few every year cause extensive damage to apartments -- much more than deposits can cover. Right now, she is taking three former tenants to court for $2,000 to $3,000 worth of damage to an apartment.

``We literally had to leave the place empty,'' she said. It needed new paint, new carpet and several walls repaired.

Though the company is very lenient about pets, she said they can damage a rental extensively.

``That's a big issue,'' she said. ``Male cats seem to be the worst, and puppies.''

When tenants move out, they leave apartments in a different state of habitability.

``Usually, they just leave behind things they don't want to take,'' she said. ``We've found all kinds of things.''

There are excessive nail holes in the walls, doors ripped off their hinges and dirty floors. They all have to be repaired.

Getting advice and help

Many people turn to legal help.

Legal Services for Students at Kansas University handles cases for 3,000 students a year. Fifteen to 20 percent of those are landlord-tenant disputes, director Jo Hardesty said.

``Daily I hear complaints about repairs,'' she said. ``Part of the problem is lack of communication.''

Housing and Credit Counseling Inc. in Lawrence and Topeka counsels both landlords and tenants in disputes.

``It's really the cheapest form of help and assistance they can get,'' Debra Christians said. ``We have things like security deposit issues and maintenance. ... People don't know what their rights are.''

Tenants, she said, have the right to safe, inhabitable buildings. Landlords need to maintain the building and its appliances. They should take into account normal wear and tear when assessing damages, and charge reasonable rates.

By the same token, tenants have to live up the terms of their lease.

``A lot of people ... don't really understand their responsibilities as a tenant,'' she said.

Many disputes can be settled through communication. HCCI offers mediation.

``You've got to talk to your landlord,'' she said. ``There's a lot of things that come into play.''

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is fhaynes@ljworld.com.

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