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For reasons described below, my landlord told me a few months ago that I could break my lease if I found a house I wanted to buy. 6 weeks later, I closed on a house, and gave him 30 days notice. However, he began mentioning in correspondence (this is all via text message) that he expected the house to be in the state it was in when I first moved in, and as the end of the 30-day window approached, began dropping requests to repair small holes, rent a professional carpet cleaner, etc. He has not deposited my April rent check, and it now seems his intention is to give the proportion of my security deposit back that corresponds to what day of the month the house is "deep-cleaned and move-in ready."

For context, my landlord (a) advertised the rental had a fireplace, but refused to pay for an inspection and encouraged me not to use it, (b) responded to a request to replace 10 unusable, loose electrical receptacles by saying his job was overwhelming, he didn't want to be a landlord anymore, and did I want to buy the house?, and (c) during the inspection process, was not willing to concede the cost of $7000 of plumbing work, instead saying that the realtors should pay for it, as it would only be 3% of their commission, which is false.

My interpretation is that this landlord wants the financial benefits of being a landlord without exerting any effort.

I once had a landlord attempt to withhold my deposit because the room I rented was "dirty," although it was obviously that way before I moved in, as the previous tenant had two large dogs. I learned from that experience that in Arizona, deposits cannot be used for cleaning unless a walkthrough inspection, with checklist, is performed before move-in. Moreover, withholding a deposit for invalid reasons for over 30 days means the tenant has recourse to request twice the amount wrongly withheld.

What I don't know is whether this applies to my situation. The statement that I could break the lease was made without any formalities, over a text message. I'm concerned that if I attempt to assert that asking for e.g. steamcleaning is unreasonable, the landlord will just say that the contract is still in effect, and just deposit the checks I wrote, post-dated the first of each month, for the remainder of the 12-month lease. I have cleaned the house to a reasonable extent. Can I safely void those checks, provide a PO Box for my deposit, drop off the keys, and leave a brief notice of my rights under the law, or would I risk legal action and/or legitimate withholding of deposit money by doing so?

  • What does the lease say about cleaning? Many leases will say "broom-clean" which just means swept out/vacuumed, no items left from the tenant. – mkennedy Apr 15 at 15:54
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The Residential Landlord-Tenant Act of Arizona is here, for reference. There is a provision for a move-out inspection, but that pertains to damage claims (holes in the wall, etc). See §33-1310(14), which says

"Security" means money or property given to assure payment or performance under a rental agreement. "Security" does not include a reasonable charge for redecorating or cleaning.

The tenant does not have an obligation to return a unit to "move-in ready" condition.

On the other hand, you do owe for the remainder of the lease, and if you don't pay, he can sue you for the money owed on the remainder of the lease. Plus, he can eventually keep the security deposit if you don't pay and move out before the end of the lease (see §33-1370). You and the landlord can mutually agree to terminate the lease, if you can agree no terms (such as, cleaning).

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  • So it sounds like early termination is not guaranteed based on the single text message, but rather is contingent on coming to an agreement on the terms of the early termination... which I did not negotiate initially, and now do not have much ability to bargain over. Is that about right? – justthisguyyouknow Apr 14 at 23:09
  • That seems to be the situation. – user6726 Apr 14 at 23:49

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