• Gary Sandler
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    Published 21 February 2021

    Picture this: You’re a landlord who rented or leased a house, apartment or mobile home to a tenant. At the end of the term, you and the tenant walk through the property to determine if it’s being returned to you in the same condition it was in when the tenant first took possession. To your surprise, the property is clean as a whistle and ready for occupancy by a new renter. Are you happy to return the tenant’s security deposit? You bet!

    Had the tenant not taken the time to return the property to its pre-rental condition, you would first have to take it off the market for the number of days or weeks it would take to make it ready for the next tenant. In addition, you would have to expend time, money and energy to facilitate the cleaning and repairs. You would have to also prepare and mail to the tenant an accounting of how the security deposit funds were spent.

    According to Alan Chastine, Qualifying Broker and owner of Pinnacle Management Group LLC in Las Cruces, “communication and transparency are the keys to a trouble-free lease for both the tenant and the landlord.” Chastine went on to say that “sure, it may take 40 minutes for the landlord and tenant to review each and every paragraph of the lease at the time it’s being signed, but it’s time well spent.”

    Is there a late charge? May I paint my daughter’s room purple? Inquiring tenants want and deserve to know. Once everyone has a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities under the lease, it’s time to focus attention on the property itself.

    This step in the process is critical when it comes to the return of security deposits. Both the landlord and the tenant should thoroughly document in writing the condition of the interior and exterior of the property. Landlords typically use a room-by-room, area-by-area checklist, which is signed by both parties. Tenants may use their own checklist as well. Both should also take pictures or videos — and I mean lots of pictures or videos — of each and every room, closet, appliance, door, window, flowerbed, fence, driveway, nook and cranny. An objective record of the property condition made at the time the lease is signed sets the standard for the condition the property is expected to be in when it is turned back to the landlord, normal wear and tear notwithstanding.

    The law governing the rental of dwelling units in our state is the “New Mexico Uniform Owner-Resident Relations Act.” A copy of the law can be found online at http://laws.uslandlord.com/laws/nmstatelaw.html. The information is particularly clear and well laid out for something written by a lawyer. Some of the most commonly accessed provisions include the maximum security deposit that can be collected (up to the equivalent of one month’s rent for leases of less than one year), under what circumstances deposits can be withheld (for payment of back rent or damages, excluding normal wear and tear), and when a deposit or accounting thereof must be transmitted to the tenant (within 30 days of departure or end of the lease or rental agreement, whichever occurs first).

    The City of Las Cruces has folks on staff who can also provide information and resources to landlords and tenants, and offers a “Landlord/Tenant Relations Handbook” that’s free for the asking. You can reach them by logging on to https://www.las-cruces.org/1353/Landlord-Tenant-Relations, by calling the Housing and Family Services arm of the Community Development Department at 575-528-3022, or emailing fairhousing@las-cruces.org.

    In the end, the message is clear for both landlords and tenants: Get it in writing, know what you’re signing, and enthusiastically document the condition of the property. Anything less could easily result in a kerfuffle over the deposit.

    See you at closing!

    Gary Sandler is a full-time Realtor and owner of Gary Sandler Inc., Realtors in Las Cruces. He loves to answer questions and can be reached at 575-642-2292 or Gary@GarySandler.com.

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      Gary Sandler