DECISION AND ORDER
The above captioned case having come before the Commission on Landlord-Tenant Affairs for Montgomery County, Maryland (the "Commission"), pursuant to Sections 29-10, 29-14, 29-41, and 29-44 of the Montgomery County Code, 2001, as amended, and the Commission having considered the testimony and evidence of record, it is therefore, this 22nd day of April, 2003, found, determined, and ordered, as follows:
On November 12, 2002, Jennifer Salkeld (“Complainant”), former tenant at 17328 Sandy Knoll Drive, Olney, Maryland, (the “Property”), a licensed single-family rental facility in Montgomery County, Maryland, filed a formal complaint with the Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs within the Department of Housing and Community Affairs, (“Department”), in which she alleged that Salah and Nina Moustafa (“Respondents”), owners of the Property: (1) assessed unjust charges against her security deposit after the termination of her tenancy, in violation of § 8-203(f)(1)(i) of the Real Property Article, Annotated Code of Maryland, 1999 as amended (“State Code”); and (2) failed to reimburse her for improvements she made to the Property.
Specifically, the Complainant asserts that: (1) the Property was left in a clean condition and not damaged in excess of ordinary wear and tear as a result of her tenancy; and (2) Respondents unjustly charged her $750.00 for repairing walls and repainting in the Property.
In response to the above-referenced allegations, the Respondents contend that the Complainant caused substantial damage to the walls in the Property during he tenancy, and that they incurred actual expense to repair that damage which far exceeded the $750.00 charged against the Complainant’s security deposit, but that they were willing to accept $750.00 to satisfy the costs incurred.
After determining that the
complaint was not susceptible to conciliation, the Department duly referred
this case to the Commission for its review, and on
reflects that the Department sent notice of the scheduled hearing date and time
and a Summons and Statement of Charges and Notice of Hearing to the
Respondents, by first class and certified mail, return receipt requested,
postage pre-paid, on
FINDINGS OF FACT
Based on the testimony and evidence of record, the Commission makes the following findings of fact:
1. The Respondents are the owners of the
Property, a licensed single-family rental facility located at
6. The Complainant vacated the Property on
Shampooing the Carpet $250.00
Repairing walls and repainting $750.00
8. The Complainant did not dispute the validity or withholding from her security deposit of the $250.00 charge for shampooing the carpet.
9. The Respondents failed to offer any probative testimony or evidence, such as photographs, personal testimony or paid receipts, evidencing that the walls were damaged in excess of ordinary wear and tear or that they incurred any actual expense to repair the walls after the termination of the Complainant’s tenancy. The Commission was unable to discern how Respondents arrived at their damage figure because the testimony did not make clear what damage to the walls was out of the ordinary and what damage might, if properly delineated, might have, at least theoretically, be chargeable to the Complainant.
10. The Commission finds that the Respondents failed to prove the existence or measure of damages to the walls inside the Property.
11. The Commission finds that the Respondents failed to credit or refund interest accrued on the Complainant’s security deposit, in the amount of 4% per annum, accruing in six-month intervals of 2%, as required by § 8-203(e)(1) of the State Code. Based on the duration of the Complainant’s tenancy, which was more than 1 ˝ years but less than 2 years, the amount of accrued interest is $144.00.
12. The Commission finds that Respondents’ actions lack the requisite indicia of egregiousness or bad faith to warrant the awarding of a penalty.
Conclusions of Law
1. In order for the Complainant to establish a prima facie case for unlawful withholding of a portion of her security deposit where timely notice of withholding has been received, the Complainant need only allege that the damages claimed do not exceed normal wear and tear. Once this initial case is met, the burden then shifts to the Respondents to prove: (a) the damages claimed exceed normal wear and tear, and (b) the Respondents incurred actual costs to repair the damages caused by the Complainant.
2. Based on the Commission’s findings that the Respondents failed to prove the existence of damage to the walls beyond ordinary wear and tear, or the cost of correcting the same, supra Findings of Fact No. 9 and No. 10, the Respondents’ withholding of a portion of Complainant’s security deposit amounting to $750.00, constitutes a violation of § 8-203(f)(1) of the State Code, and has caused a defective tenancy.
3. Further, the Respondents’ failure to refund accrued interest on the Complainant’s security deposit constitutes a violation of § 8-203(e)(1) of the State Code, and has also caused a defective tenancy.
4. Based on the Commission’s finding that there does not exist particularly egregious conduct nor bad faith on the part of the Respondents in withholding a portion of the security deposit, Complainant’s request for treble damages is denied.
In view of the foregoing, the Commission on Landlord-Tenant Affairs hereby Orders the following:
1. The Respondents must pay the Complainant $894.00, which sum represents the Complainant’s security deposit ($2,400.00), plus accrued interest ($144.00), less that portion of security deposit previously refunded ($1,400.00) and that portion of security deposit properly withheld ($250.00).
2. Complainant’s request for treble damages is hereby denied.
Commissioner Roger Luchs, Commissioner Kwaku Ofori, and Commissioner Travis Nelson, Panel Chairperson, concurred in the foregoing decision unanimously.
To comply with this Order, Respondents, Salah and Nina Moustafa, must forward to the Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs, 100 Maryland Avenue, 4th Floor, Rockville, MD 20850, within thirty (30) calendar days of the date of this Decision and Order, a check, made payable to Jennifer Salkeld, in the amount of $894.00.
The Respondents, Salah and Nina Moustafa, are hereby notified that Section 29-48 of the County Code declares that failure to comply with this Decision and Order is punishable by a $500.00 civil fine Class A violation as set forth in Section 1-19 of the County Code. This civil fine may, at the discretion of the Commission, be imposed on a daily basis until there is compliance with this Decision and Order.
In addition to the issuance of a Class A civil citation and $500.00 civil fine, should the Commission determine that the Respondents have not, within thirty (30) calendar days of the date of this Decision and Order, made a bona fide effort to comply with the terms of this Decision and Order, it may also refer the matter to the Office of the County Attorney for additional legal enforcement.
aggrieved by this action of the Commission may file an administrative appeal to
the Circuit Court for
Travis P. Nelson, Panel Chairperson
Commission on Landlord-Tenant Affairs
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