Renter Says Landlord Used Coronavirus to Shirk Law and Rack Up a Bill

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A Southern California family said their landlord used the stay-at-home order to sidestep a state law protecting renters, which put them on the hook for hundreds of dollars.

When Marina Panteleyeva’s landlord at "Irvine Company” hiked her family’s rent, she made the difficult decision to move.

"It was not easy for the kids to move and change schools of course," Panteleyeva said.

Panteleyeva asked Irvine Company for a “move out walkthrough," a renter’s right, per California state law. It allows the landlord to point out any damage, giving the tenant a chance to fix it. But Irvine Company canceled the walkthrough, citing the stay-at-home” order.

Panteleyeva took pictures of the apartment after her family moved out and expected to get her $700 security deposit back.

"We have the photos. We sent it to them. They should be satisfied with the condition of the apartment - that there’s no damage whatsoever," Panteleyeva said.

But Irvine Company disagreed. It sent Panteleyeva a $1,500 dollar repair bill, along with pictures of her carpet, saying it needed to be replaced.

Panteleyeva struggled to see the damage her landlord claimed was there. She disputed the bill, but got nowhere.

Panteleyeva felt Irvine Company had no right to charge her since she’d given up her right to an inspection.

"To me, logically, if we’re not present, you refused the move-out inspection in our presence, which is our legal right, then all the arguments after than should be null and void," Panteleyeva said.

Tenant rights advocate Elena Popp thinks a judge would side with Panteleyeva, because bottom line is she says Irvine Company broke the law.

"Security deposits are the single most common reason there’s a conflict between a landlord and tenant," Popp said.

"I think that inspection could have been done safely. The way you do an inspection safely - both sides glove up and mask up, they stay 6-9 feet away from each other, the person visiting doesn’t touch anything," Popp said. "That’s a safe interaction. And there’s no reason that shouldn’t have happened."

But Irvine Company appears to disagree. It didn’t provide a comment for this story. Instead, it asked the California Apartment Association, a landlord trade group, to reach out.

CAA said Irvine Company’s modified move-out inspection is “consistent with applicable law.” However, Irvine Company did drop all of Panteleyeva's charges - minus a cleaning fee, which she thinks is reasonable.

Panteleyeva offered advice to other tenants who are moving out during this tricky time: Put your foot down.

"Demand the move-out inspection. No matter what," Panteleyeva said.

A landlord has 21 days to return your deposit or give you an accounting of charges for damages.

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