Can my ex-landlord bill me months later for supposed damages?

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Question:

I moved out of an apartment I had rented for two years. I got my security deposit back within a couple of weeks, but four months later, I received a bill for $450. The landlords claimed they had to replace the carpet because it had cigarette burns in it. I know that I did not burn the carpet. What can I do?

Answer:

Your landlord is a bit tardy in making this claim, and luckily for you, no longer holds your deposit. You can simply ignore the bill, and chances are, the landlord will let it go. If the landlord persists, he'll have to sue you in small claims court. There, you'll point out that the deposit was returned three-plus months earlier without deductions for burn marks, which will make it very hard for the landlord to claim that the marks were caused by you.

Next time you rent an apartment, be sure to take "before" and "after" pictures when you move in and when you move out. This will put a stop to any attempt by an unscrupulous landlord to charge you for pre-existing damage or for damage that appears after you're long gone.

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