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Question of the Week: Security Deposit Deductions

This question comes from a landlord in Birmingham. He is just starting out, and can’t afford to hire cleaning crews and repair people every time a tenant moves out. So, he does the cleaning himself, and makes simple repairs such as drywall damage, broken window panes, and similar things. Normally, he would have to pay someone $300 for an “extra” cleaning job, and several hundred dollars for his repairs. He asks, “When I deduct these things from a security deposit, do I have to charge an hourly fee for my time? If so, how much per hour? Or, can I deduct the same amounts that independent contractors would charge me?”

The answer is, he can deduct the same amounts that independent contractors would charge him. In the case of cleaning and repair deductions from security deposits, they are the result of damages the landlord suffered as a result of the tenant’s default regarding property maintenance. The measure of the damage, meaning the dollar amount of tenant’s liability, is what it would cost to fix things. Not what it actually costs, but what it would cost. People who want to read an appeals court decision discussing this should read Tabor v. Thacker, 521 So.2d 66 (Ala. Civ. App. 1988)

What do you think?