In four years at Kansas University, Arsen Kharatyan has had four landlords. He ended up in court with the last one.
"If you let something like this go," Kharatyan said, "they're going to stiff the next person and the person after that."
In Kharatyan's case, "this" was a security deposit that was not refunded when the KU senior and his roommates moved out of an apartment owned by Rogers Properties.
But the manager for Rogers Properties, Robert Serling, said Kharatyan and his roommates didn't leave their apartment in pristine condition; it had large stains and gouges in the walls.
Serling said his company believed it had a "gentleman's agreement" with the roommates on the deposit.
"What it came down to in court was that the actual paperwork was never issued on the reason they weren't getting their deposit back," Serling said. "It's paperwork, dummy. You've got to have it in writing."
A judge sided with the roommates, awarding them $801, which was the full deposit, plus a penalty fee and court fees.
And that's not the only case out there. As the school year nears its end, observers say more than a few KU students and Lawrence landlords will find themselves disputing deposits. It's just one more flashpoint in a year-round tug-of-war .
Jo Hardesty, director of KU Legal Services, said landlord-tenant issues were the majority of the department's cases.
"It's the No. 1 thing we do," she said. "Somewhere around 85 percent live off campus, and of the students who live off-campus, almost all of them rent. ... That's why we have those problems in the landlord-tenant area."
Hardesty said the two main problems her office dealt with were the return of security deposits and repairs that went undone.
"During the school year we'll have students come in, the classic cases of bugs and mice," she said. "Some of those older homes might have issues with furnace and water heater, gas, electrical. Things like that some of the newer homes won't see."
Hardesty's department offers to review leases for KU student tenants and also gives advice for handling negotiations and walk-throughs. She hopes the service will prevent problems before they happen.
"The students seem to be doing that a little bit more," she said. "We advocate for the tenants' rights. There is nobody else out there who does."
But sometimes the disputes end up in court.
Gwen Wellnitz's son, Scott, won a $1,221 judgment last year in Douglas County small claims court against First Management Inc. Gwen Wellnitz said the company failed to return her son's deposit after he graduated from KU.
A few shysters
Wellnitz said she thought most students didn't know their rights when dealing with landlords.
"The landlords, they don't have to treat them right. They have kids moving in all the time," she said. "My guess is that more people let it go than go after them."
First Management officials declined to comment on the case.
Sterling said he believed Lawrence landlords occasionally did take advantage of students, but he said that's not what happened in his case with Kharatyan.
"I think there's a few shysters out there," Serling said, "but I think by and large the majority of them want to be straight up."
|When can a landlord keep a deposit?Tenants are required under Kansas law to follow housing codes involving health and safety; keep the unit as clean and safe as possible; clean out trash; keep plumbing fixtures clean; use appliances reasonably; be responsible for damage caused by themselves, their guests or their pets; and not disturb the peace.The landlord can deduct damages from the security deposit if the tenant fails to do those things and can put the security deposit toward unpaid rent when the lease ends.How long do landlords have to return the deposit?Landlords must list in writing what's being taken out of the deposit and return the balance no later than 30 days after the lease ends. If that doesn't happen, the tenant can recover the deposit, plus one and a half times the deposit in damages.Where should students go if they don't get their deposits?One place students can go is Douglas County Small Claims Court, 111 E. 11th St. The court -- an attorney-free process similar to "The People's Court" -- can be used for disputes up to $4,000.How often do tenants succeed?Since December, there have been at least three local cases of tenants successfully suing their landlords for security deposits, records show.¢ Justin Kaplan v. Sue Mason. Kaplan sued, alleging his deposit wasn't returned. He asked for $1,000 and won $250, plus court costs of $51.¢ Kevin and Gwen Wellnitz v. First Management Inc. The Wellnitz family alleged their son's $450 deposit hadn't been returned. They asked for the full deposit, plus a $675 penalty. They won $1,177 plus court costs.¢ Arsen Kharatyan and Paul Jongenelen v. Rogers Properties. The roommates alleged the company failed to return their $500 deposit. They asked for the full deposit, plus a $250 penalty. They won $750 plus court costs.|