You’re all moved out of your old apartment and are settling into your new place. Suddenly, you get a phone call from your old landlord, informing you that he found damage to the apartment that you never reported. It may even be enough damage that he is asking for money beyond your security deposit to make repairs. Worse yet, he is threatening to sue. Depending on the situation, you may not be responsible for this problem.
It’s not uncommon for a landlord to find damage or problems that are normally hidden by furniture when a tenant moves out. You may not even know that a problem was there. If there was no reasonable expectation for you to know, you generally can’t be held accountable. However, if a landlord can prove that there were signs you should have picked up on — like a higher water bill resulting from a leak or a hole you would have seen as you were moving out, you can be considered liable. In the event that you were aware of the damage and attempted to repair it yourself without consulting your landlord, it can be difficult to argue that you are not to blame. Depending on the situation, a landlord might request enough additional money to cover having a professional redo the repair job.
A landlord might choose to escalate a request for money to small claims court if the damage is costly. In the event that the suit ends with the court finding you, the tenant, responsible, you might be expected to cover all necessary repair work. If you are not found liable, you do have the ability to counter sue and get your deposit back. It can be difficult to prove the case one way or the other, but if you have photos showing that your apartment looked normal or can verify that your landlord walked through on a regular basis and didn’t spot a problem, you may have an easier time of it.
If you have renters insurance in place, it’s worthwhile to call your agent the moment you hear that your old landlord is attempting to hold you responsible for unreported damages. Your insurance may cover the damages in the event that you are liable. You may even be provided a lawyer to represent you in small claims court depending on your policy and what state you live in. Hopefully it never gets to this point, but you should know that it can, and if it does you need to be prepared to handle it.