Wednesday, September 19, 2018

LT - security deposit - tenant's new address - list/proof of damages

Nitardy v. Chabot – Pa. Superior Court – published opinion – Septembwr 14, 2018
majority (2-1)

Court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded decision of lower court in favor of tenant who sued concerning security deposit.

Oral modification of written lease
“The law is well settled that parties may modify a written lease agreement by a subsequent oral agreement, and this modification may be shown by words or conduct. Bonczek v. Pascoe Equip. Co., 450 A.2d 75, 77 (Pa.Super. 1982). For an oral modification to be valid, it must be based upon valid consideration and proved by evidence that is “clear, precise, and convincing.” Id. (citation omitted).”

Failure to provide written list of any damages - specificity
The Landlord and Tenant Act specifically provides that a landlord shall “within thirty days of termination of a lease. . . provide a tenant with a written list of any damages to the leasehold premises for which the landlord claims the tenant is liable.” 68 P.S. § 250.512(a). . . .When the landlord delivers the “written list of any damages,” the landlord shall return the security deposit less “the actual amount of damages to the leasehold premises caused by the tenant.” Id. . . . . If the landlord fails to pay the difference between the security deposit and the “actual damages to the leasehold premises,” the landlord shall be liable for double the amount of the security deposit less actual damages to the leasehold premises. 68 P.S. § 250.512(c).

Since the Act requires that the landlord return the security deposit less the “actual damages” to the property, the “written list of any damages” must be specific enough so that the landlord can value the “actual damages” and notify the tenant of the basis for deducting amounts from the security deposit. In this case, the trial court found the “written list of any damages” that Landlord provided to Tenants was too vague to constitute an appropriate “written list of any damages.” In particular, the trial court found that a “vague list, without accompanying values as to each item, will not suffice.” . . . .We agree.

Tenant’s failure to timely provide new address in writing not dispositive
Subsection 250.512(e) states that “[f]ailure of the tenant to provide the landlord with his new address in writing upon termination of the lease or upon surrender and acceptance of the leasehold premises shall relieve the landlord from any liability under [section 250.512,]” which is the section relating to security deposits discussed supra. 68 P.S. § 250.512(e).

The trial court declined to apply this provision, stating that the parties remained in continual email contact, the Tenants evantually provided Landlord with a forwarding address, and Landlord had the mailing information needed to comply with the security deposit provisions of the Act in ample time to do so. . . . . Further, the court stated, “the suggestion that [Landlord] did not return any of [the Tenants’] security deposit because he did not have their forwarding address is belied by the record in this case.” Id. We see no basis to disturb the trial court’s ruling.

We see no basis to disturb the trial court’s ruling. The record supports its factual findings. Further, in the lone reported case by this Court construing subsection 250.512(e), we rejected a landlord’s attempt to use subsection  250.512(e) as a shield when there was no evidence in the record indicating that the failure to return the security deposit was due to the landlord’s not knowing where to mail the deposit. Adamsky v. Picknick, 603 A.2d 1069, 1071 (Pa. Super. 1992) (“[W]e find the lack of notice argument is tenuous at best since appellant’s reason for withholding the deposit was not because he did not have appellees’ new address[;] rather, he withheld it because he maintained there were damages for which he should be compensated.”).  Therefore, we hold that the trial court properly declined to apply subsection 250.512(e) in this case.

Landlord’s counterclaim for damages – burden of proof
The Act places on the landlord the burden of proof as to actual damages caused by a tenant to the leasehold premises. 68 P.S. § 250.512(c).   However, note that a landlord’s right, pursuant to the Lease, to require a tenant to pay for damage to a property may be separate and distinct from a landlord’s right to deduct amounts for damage from the security deposit pursuant to 68 P.S. § 250.512(a). If a landlord fails to meet the requirements of 68 P.S. §250.512(a), he still has a claim pursuant to the Lease. He just cannot deduct the amounts from the security deposit and must collect the amounts directly from the tenant.