Hey, there! Log in / Register

Covid-19 no excuse for landlord not returning security deposit to former tenants, court rules

A Fenway landlord that wouldn't return the security deposit to two tenants who moved out in August, 2020 has to pay them that deposit times three, the costs of their attorney to get that check and now the extra legal fees they racked up when the landlord appealed a court's decision to grant the tenants their treble damages, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled today.

When the two tenants of Traynor Management's 57 Westland Ave. moved out on Aug. 31, 2020, an agent for the landlord's facilities manager inspected their apartment and concluded they had not damaged it and so they were eligible for repayment of their $2,425 security deposit. But they still hadn't gotten it 30 days after they moved out - as required by state law - and eventually sued in Housing Court.

A Housing Court judge ruled they were entitled to $7,275, or three times their initial security deposit, as called for by state law, plus $17,780 for legal costs

Traynor Management appealed, arguing, among other reasons, they couldn't make the payment because of "force majeure," essentially something completely out of its control: The Covid-19 pandemic. The company argued that, like so many others, it had to shut its offices due to the pandemic and so therefore couldn't make the payment.

The appeals court curtly dismissed that argument. Force majeure relates to contracts and the requirement that landlords return security deposits after being assured there was nothing wrong with an apartment after it's been vacated is codified in state law, so is not a contract issue. Plus, Traynor only raised that issue for the first time in its appeal, the court said:

This argument is waived; the landlord never raised such a defense in its answer, or in its summary judgment opposition, or at the summary judgment hearing. Moreover, the concept of force majeure is generally applied in contract disputes, and the landlord cites no authority for applying it to protect a party from a statutory liability such as the one at issue here. Finally, the landlord's summary judgment opposition cited no evidence suggesting that the pandemic prevented it from timely returning the deposit by mailing a check or checks to the tenants.

The court also rejected an argument by Traynor that it tried to make arrangements with one of the tenants to pick a check up at its office, saying the company knew that wouldn't work because the tenant had moved to New York - and that the tenant argued he never got the phone call in which that offer was allegedly made.

The court agreed with the housing-court judge that at first glance, the $17,780 the tenants' lawyer wanted - representing more than 59 hours of work - "seems extraordinarily high for a security deposit case."

But like the Housing Court judge, the appeals court agreed that was mostly Traynor's fault, caused by a legal strategy that consisted of fighting the tenants at every single turn and making detailed motions that required answers, so "after examining the time records of the [tenants'] attorney and noting the extraordinary amount of work which he was obliged to do on account of the demands of the [landlord's] defense strategy, the [c]ourt finds that the time spent was reasonable."

The appeals court then piled on, saying that on top of that amount, the tenants' attorney is also entitled to be reimbursed for all the work he did dealing with Traynor's appeal of that decision:

The tenants are invited to file a verified and itemized application for such fees and costs within fourteen days of the date of this decision, and the landlord will have fourteen days thereafter in which to file any opposition to the amounts requested.

Case docket, includes copies of arguments by both sides.

Neighborhoods: 
AttachmentSize
PDF icon Complete ruling111.46 KB

Ad:
Like the job UHub is doing? Consider a contribution. Thanks!

Comments

Sounds like the kind of ploy Trump Inc. would use when dealing with former tenants.

up
Voting closed 33

...

up
Voting closed 22

On October 28, 2020, nearly two months after the end of the tenancy, Slater retained an attorney, who sent the landlord a demand letter seeking return of the security deposit, trebled, plus $363.75 in interest and $1,250 in attorney's fees

Of course the landlord was on the wrong side of the law, but the tenant was also awfully quick to juice it.

up
Voting closed 8

How so? The landlord has 30 days to return the deposit. They waited two months to get a lawyer. I'm glad this parasite got the max penalty.

up
Voting closed 92

Because we've all read (or experienced) stories of tenants struggling to get their security deposit back from a landlord deducting money for petty, preexisting things. This is not one of those cases. Four weeks late on the check and bam, straight to a lawyer who bills $1,250 to write a letter.

Again, the landlord is fully liable, but the tenant (and their attorney) appears to have recognized the jackpot right away and collected it.

up
Voting closed 10

Doesn't look like the landlord was ready to hand over a check in two months. They claimed some Covid BS when that money should have been sitting in an account and ready to be paid out. The renters moved and shouldn't have to play games with this turkey.

Good for them.

up
Voting closed 77

Again, the landlord literally only has 30 days to return the money. The tenants waited another month to get a lawyer. Then it generally takes a couple years and a ton of headaches for it to make it through the courts (I know from experience with a shitty landlord pulling a similar thing on my roommates and me about a decade ago). Plus, IT'S THEIR MONEY! What kind of brainworms do you need to have to interpret this as opportunism? Do you want them to wait a year?

up
Voting closed 67

In your own experience with the shitty landlord, did you go straight to a lawyer, or did you first call the landlord? That's the key difference. Normally when people owe us a refund, we try to talk to them. Going straight to a very expensive attorney (which even the judge raised an eyebrow at) over a late refund is not normal.

The tenant saw the opportunity, and seized it.

up
Voting closed 6

In your own experience with the shitty landlord, did you go straight to a lawyer, or did you first call the landlord?

Why do you assume they didn't?

Not everyone acts in bad faith all the time. It says something of you that you assume they do.

up
Voting closed 44

Why do you assume they didn't?

Because that's what it says in the judge's decision, in the PDF posted above.

up
Voting closed 7

No it doesn't. You'd better get your eyes checked.

On August 31, 2020, the lease expired and the tenants vacated the apartment. Immediately after moving out, Slater contacted an officer of the landlord, Wendy Traynor, to ask when the security deposit would be returned. On September 1, 2020, Traynor sent a text message to Slater acknowledging that the landlord was holding the security deposit and further stating, "I have [thirty] days to send it back. I need to talk to [the landlord's facilities manager] and make sure there's no damage. I'm not really worried. Please email forwarding addresses." Slater replied that same day with a text message saying that he would send Traynor his new address by e-mail.

On September 15, 2020, the facilities manager inspected the apartment and found it to be in the condition required under the lease. The landlord asserts that Traynor then called Slater and told him that, if he wanted his check immediately, he could schedule a time to meet her at the management office, which was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.4 Slater denies ever receiving such a call from Traynor.5 On September 23, 2020, the deposit not having been returned, Slater sent a text message to Traynor, stating that he had sent an e-mail message to her with his and Alessi's addresses "for our security deposit but I never heard anything back so I thought I'd shoot you the info again via text." That same day, Traynor replied, "End of [S]ept." Slater then sent another text message to Traynor, which listed his mailing address in Forest Hills, New York, and Alessi's mailing address in Weymouth, Massachusetts.

On September 30, 2020, Alessi sent a text message to Traynor asking when he could expect the return of the security deposit. Traynor did not respond to that message.

up
Voting closed 32

Honey, smarten up. The tenant should not have had any opportunity - that money was required to be in a bank and needed to be returned. A check could be mailed.

But, hey, your ilk seem to think its perfectly okay when a cop "sees an opportunity" to murder ... but that's taking illegal action, not legal action, so that makes it okay?

up
Voting closed 17

And you choose the boot.

up
Voting closed 42

This is trumpism.

If you demand your rights you must be some kind of wrong and evil person. If you bilk people and steal their money? Good businessman!

And don't even think for a moment that the landlord did not have the money - in MA they are required by law to put it in the bank for the duration of tenancy. Dude was trying to pocket the deposit and likely said as much.

No excuses. None.

Why do you rightwingers hate obeying laws so much?

up
Voting closed 23

In Boston. In MA, you better not mess around with someones security deposit, and this is well known.

Even if they left the place a mess, you have to pay a 3rd party to clean and provide a receipt.

To all the renters out there, if you don't get your full deposit back after 30 days, please consider that a gift from the landlord of treble damages. 10/10 times.

up
Voting closed 41

And if I'm not mistaken the deposit also needs to be in an interest bearing account with the tenant entitled to the interest. (Not that it amounts to much.)

MA has some of the best Tenant laws. The hard part is paying for a lawyer to enforce them.

up
Voting closed 29

It has to be an escrow account in a Massachusetts bank. A friend of mine used that fact to get his deposit back from a landlord who wanted to try and jack him up.

up
Voting closed 24

Which makes for some very silly checks that are often worth less than the postage

up
Voting closed 10

Management company sent an invoice every month, and they'd just deduct it from the charges one month.

up
Voting closed 5

LL has 30 days to return the deposit. If they do not, the tenant must send a 30 Day Demand letter, giving the LL one last chance to do right. If no response/un-justified with holding, then and only then, can the tenant seek the treble damages in court. And even then, the LL could give the tenant their money back and chances are the matter would get dropped. LL gets at LEAST 60 days and sometimes a lot longer. No sympathy for the LL here, sloppy work on their part.

https://www.mass.gov/service-details/30-day-demand-letter

up
Voting closed 13

Is actually perfectly reasonable and rational.

up
Voting closed 24