Law helps you get security deposit

Q. I am about to move out of an apartment that I have lived in for two years. I gave my landlord notice and will move in a few days. What can I do to make sure I get back my deposit?

A. The Texas Security Deposit Law can help. To use this law, you must do two things. First, you must give proper notice before moving. Read your lease. Many leases require 60 days notice. If you do not have a lease and are on a month-to-month tenancy, you must give 30 days notice. Second, you must give your landlord a forwarding address. Assuming you have done these two things, the landlord must either return your deposit or give you written notice spelling out why it is not being returned within 30 days. The landlord may withhold money from your deposit for damage you caused, but not for anything that is the result of ordinary wear and tear. For example, you have lived there for two years. It is reasonable to assume that rugs are dirty and need to be cleaned. That would be ordinary wear and tear. On the other hand, if you spilled red wine on the carpet and it needs to be replaced, the landlord may charge you for that expense. Finally, be sure to document the condition of the apartment when you leave. If your landlord will agree to a walk through, arrange one. Also, take photographs or a video that shows the condition of the apartment when you left.

Q. Yesterday I received a letter from a collection agency that says I owe $160 to my eye doctor for services performed in 2006. I have been to this doctor many times, and I’m sure that I would have paid it if they had told me about it. Do you think this is a scam?

A. It might not be scam. It is not unusual for collectors to try to collect old debts, and you may not have even received a bill at the time the service was performed. I suggest you begin by sending written notice to the collector stating that you dispute the debt, demanding they tell you the date and nature of the service. Then you can determine if you owe the money. If you believe you do not owe the money, it is too late for them to sue, and you can stop all communication by sending notice demanding they stop. Look at the debt collection section on my Web site to see your rights.

Q. Is an oral lease valid? I want to move early but my landlord says we have a valid lease for a year.

A. An oral lease for a year or less is just as enforceable as a written lease. Of course, the person who is trying to enforce the lease must prove the oral agreement. Maybe you can get the landlord to agree to terminate the lease by forfeiting the security deposit or paying a month’s rent.

Q. About 15 years ago I did business with a company and never paid my bills. I was shocked to find out that they still refuse to deal with me until I pay. My credit is now excellent and I pay all my bills. Isn’t there some sort of limitations period for collecting a debt?

A. There are limitation periods for any type of legal action. For example, most debts cannot be enforced after four years. There also are limits on how long such information may be reported on your credit report. In most cases, after seven years the information becomes obsolete and cannot be reported. There are no limitations, however, on how long you “owe” a debt. In fact, until it is paid, the money is owed. If the person you owe the money to does not want to deal with you until the debt is paid, he or shehas a legal right to do so. It might seem “shocking” to you, but it is obviously a matter of some importance to the person to whom you owe money.

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