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My 2 roommates and I (all students) were renting an apartment in a community in Dallas, Texas. Among many problems with the landlord, when we were leaving, we spent a full week fully cleaning the apartment. While we were expecting our security deposits back, they seized the deposit ($200), and not only that, surprisingly they also billed us $2000 back with fake reasons just to rob money from us, for things like a single seed in a corner, a small seed in the freezer, the apartment smells of food, etc. We didn't even cook any food for the last 2 months! They didn't do the pest control properly, and we suffered from cockroaches (and they are charging us for that!!). They also charged us for things that landlords must do anyways, like carpet washing. One thought is that they are charging us for maintenance costs (our AC was broken and they replaced it).

How can we dispute this? They are threatening to damage our credit report if we don't pay (a good trick to scare students). But is it that easy for someone to just report to the credit company and damage other people's score? They already took our deposit, and we don't believe we need to pay for fake expenses AT ALL and STRONGLY stand on our position. Shall we file a lawsuit?

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The relevant part of Texas law is in the property code, §§92.101-92.109 §92.104 allows them to "deduct from the deposit damages and charges for which the tenant is legally liable under the lease or as a result of breaching the lease", and then they must "give to the tenant the balance of the security deposit, if any, together with a written description and itemized list of all deductions" (except when there is uncontroversial rent owed). §92.109 states what the landlord's liability is, namely

a landlord who in bad faith retains a security deposit in violation of this subchapter is liable for an amount equal to the sum of $100, three times the portion of the deposit wrongfully withheld, and the tenant's reasonable attorney's fees in a suit to recover the deposit.

This requires bad faith, not just being wrong. If you dispute the deductions, you can sue the landlord to recover the deposit. The law also provides that "In an action brought by a tenant under this subchapter, the landlord has the burden of proving that the retention of any portion of the security deposit was reasonable". In order to extract more money from you for putative damages, the landlord will have to sue you and establish that there was an additional $2,000 damages. If the court finds that you did actually did damage the apartment, you may be ordered to compensate the landlord. Until you get such an order, you don't owe them anything; you may be able to recover the damage deposit if the "damage" was insignificant. This sketches the process of suing in Justice Court to get your deposit back, highlighting details like the demand letter that you might not have known you have to write.

As far as your credit history is concerned, this is not entirely clear. The Fair Credit Reporting Act regulates the industry of credit reporting, and crucially you can dispute false claims of debts. This does not prevent a person from making such a claim. I do not have an account with the Big 3 reporting services, so I don't know what their standards are for recording a putative debt. However, you can insert a suitable statement in your record disputing the validity of the claim. It is most likely that the landlord would sell the putative debt to a collection agency. That industry is regulated by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and there is a procedure about disputing an alleged debt.

  • Thanks! So Until you get such an order, you don't owe them anything;, basically they don't have the right to hurt our credit report or such before this. Is that right? – Tina J Sep 18 '18 at 18:45

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