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So I moved out of my old apartment recently. Unfortunately the move-in date for the new place was too close the move-out date so I had to leave some stuff behind. I couldn't clean it all up.

On the day the lease ended, I returned my keys and asked if there was anything else needed from me. I was told no. I had no outstanding bills with the apartment at this time. They told me that they would send me mail containing the check for my deposit or what remains of it after they clean the apartment.

A week or so goes by and I get a breakdown of the cleaning they did. It exceeded the amount of my deposit by a few hundred. However, this mail was not a bill or an invoice. It was purely informational and did not request me to pay anything.

Fast forward a month and a half. Suddenly I get a letter from a debt collector saying I owe $1,600 collecting on behalf of the apartment.

My very limited understanding is that I should not be liable for new fees accessed after the lease ends. But obviously they seem to think so. Am I liable?

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    [Europe law, but I believe the US doesn't differ here] Does the invoice from the depth collector include collection fees in addition to what the house owner asks for? At least these are not owed, because you newer had a contract with the collector, nor have you ever been warned.
    – PMF
    Oct 12 at 16:04
  • @PMF In the US, it is very common to include a provision that any costs of debt collection are chargeable to the debtor in a contract, and a similar provision putting them on a tenant in a lease. Such provisions, if present, are enforceable with no additional notice or warning. Oct 12 at 19:19
  • What's the justification for the $1600? You saw the itemized cleaning bill, which exceeded your deposit by a few hundred. In most circumstances, the landlord would keep your deposit and bill you the difference. How did that few hundred turn into a bill for $1600? Oct 12 at 19:29
  • @DavidSiegel But then this provision must have been specified in the original contract. This is possible in europe as well, but uncommon in private contracts (because it leaves the impression that the creditor expects that the debitor will not pay)
    – PMF
    Oct 12 at 19:49
  • @PMF In the US it is routine boilerplate in many, perhaps most, retail and consumer contrasts, and most leases where the landlord is a corporation, and many where the landlord is a private individual. Such provisions have been present t in several house ad apartment leases I have been party to. It may also be imposed by statute in some states. The absence of a contrast with the collector is not relevant. Oct 12 at 19:56
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Overview

The question sates that "stuff" was left behind on the day that the lease was terminated. It does not saw whether the tenant notified the landlord of this stuff, much less sought permission to leave it. It does not say when or if the tenant removed the stuff, how much stuff there was, or whether the landlord would have had to remove it before the premises could be cleaned and rented to a new tenant.

The exact provisions of the lease are going to matter a great deal here.

Chapters 91 and 92 of the Texas Property Code cover statewide laws on residential leases and landlord-tenant relation in Texas. These may be supplemented by county or municipal or other local laws, which may impose additional obligations on either party. In many areas the effect of the Texas law depends on what agreements there may be between landlord and tenant, particularly the provisions of any lease.

Texas Property Code

Texas Property Code 91.001 covers notices of termination of a lease. It provides that:

(b) If a notice of termination is given under Subsection (a) and if the rent-paying period is at least one month, the tenancy terminates on whichever of the following days is the later:
(b)(1) the day given in the notice for termination; or
(b)(2) one month after the day on which the notice is given.

...

(d) If a tenancy terminates on a day that does not correspond to the beginning or end of a rent-paying period, the tenant is liable for rent only up to the date of termination.
(e) Subsections (a), (b), (c), and (d) do not apply if:
(e)(1) a landlord and a tenant have agreed in an instrument signed by both parties on a different period of notice to terminate the tenancy or that no notice is required; or
(e)(2) there is a breach of contract recognized by law.

A failure to remove the tenant's belonging and leave the dwelling in "broom-clean" condition may well be "a breach of contract recognized by law."

Code section 92.104 provides that:

(a) Before returning a security deposit, the landlord may 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.

(b) The landlord may not retain any portion of a security deposit to cover normal wear and tear.

Code section 92.109 provides that:

(a) 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.

(b) A landlord who in bad faith does not provide a written description and itemized list of damages and charges in violation of this subchapter:
(b)(1) forfeits the right to withhold any portion of the security deposit or to bring suit against the tenant for damages to the premises; and
(b)(2) is liable for the tenant’s reasonable attorney’s fees in a suit to recover the deposit.

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Am I liable to pay new fees after a lease ends?

You might be. Stone v. Mission Rock Residential Texas, LLC, 07-19-00205-CV (Aug. 2020) depicts an instance where "itemization of deductions was provided to Stone on or before the 30th day after the date he surrendered possession of the premises and the uncontested amount of those deductions exceeded the amount of the security deposit".

Should I take them to small claims court? What are my options?

At the outset, prevailing on grounds that the breakdown of the cleaning was purely informational seems unlikely. Other than for purposes of security deposit and outstanding balance, there is no reason why a landlord would keep its former tenant up-to-date on the subsequent expenses related to the leased unit. Nor does the former tenant have any other interest that outlives the scope of the lease agreement.

Additionally, the terms of the lease might have some language defeating the presumption that the itemized list was purely informational.

Without knowing the conditions in which you left the apartment, a cleaning cost greater than $1,600 seems excessive. However, your failure to timely dispute the amount(s) seems hard to justify, which consequently forfeits a claim you might otherwise have.

Some subtlety in the terms of the lease might make a difference, but otherwise the events you describe and the timing thereof suggest that your chances of prevailing against the landlord are very slim to none.

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