Nick cleans out (or I lose my security deposit)

#428 in a series of true experiences in real estate
June 2003, Hills Newspapers

My son Nick has taken my car to Santa Cruz to retrieve what he used to furnish his first apartment. He and two friends rented a place not far from the community college they entered last fall, and now they’re all coming home for the summer.

Clearing out and cleaning is about to commence, and I’m hoping that the kids will do it ably because I’d like to get my security deposit back.

Nick says they know how to clean. They’re going to rent a carpet cleaner in hopes of getting spots out of the carpeting. None of them has ever used one of these machines but they were all pleased to learn that renting one from Safeway, including the shampoo, is only about $20.

They’re more worried about the walls than the carpet because the walls show marks where posters and pictures have been removed. I knew that Nick would want to hang things up so, before he moved in, I went in search of wall-friendly tape.

Scotch brand’s poster tape secures lightweight objects firmly and can be removed without surface damage. At least that’s what the label claims. But early on, I got complaints from my son about the tape. “Mom, that special tape you bought sucks. It pulls the paint right off the walls.”

There is also the problem of a hole in a wall, a small hole, it is reported, but nevertheless, a hole. It seems that Nick and some friends were goofing around, play-punching one another, and Nick’s hand “sort of went through the wall.”

Nick is willing to fix it; he just doesn’t know how. For someone experienced in repairing drywall, it shouldn’t be difficult but, I’m afraid, the owner will have to hire that someone to do the patching, then touch-up the paint.

I’ve been thinking about damage the kids have caused from the viewpoint of the owner, as I am also a landlady. I do expect that tenants moving from my duplex leave it as clean as when they moved in. But normal wear and tear, as it says in rental agreements, I try to interpret fairly broadly.

There have been times when I had to deduct money from the tenant’s deposit for damage. There was the lid from the back of the toilet broken during a party (it’s really hard to find another that fits). And the hardwood floor that was badly discolored and distorted by a foam bed laid directly on it (body moisture, I and the tenant were surprised to learn, goes right through the foam).

But the tape on the refrigerator was the worst. Over a period of years, one of my tenants had taped dozens of photos and papers onto the front of the refrigerator with cellophane tape. Little scraps of tape and much black tape residue were all over the front. I did the removing, swearing all the while, and it took hours.

When Nick moved into his apartment, I cautioned him about tape on the refrigerator. And, as he pulled out of the driveway this week, I mentioned cleaning the kitchen. Refrigerators, I told him, are usually a last minute thought. People tend to leave them till the end (I’ve done it myself), bagging up perishables and frozen foods, placing them in the car, and returning to give the refrigerator a quick swipe.

It can’t be done, it just doesn’t work, a point I made to my son. Cleaning a refrigerator is big. This is because the people who design refrigerator interiors have built into them all sorts of grooves and overlapping edges, nooks, crannies, double-sided shelves. I suggested he count on spending possibly as much as 2 hours working on the refrigerator.

Then there’s the stove. There are so many surfaces to a stove. Outside, inside, near the floor, broiler, topside and burner pans. And, of course, the oven, which can be a project in itself. But from what I’ve heard, not much oven cooking has gone on in Nick’s apartment. In fact, very little food prep of any kind has occurred during the kids’ tenure, so maybe some light washing will suffice.

Living away from home has been, I think, instructive for Nick. Some wonderful pleasures, but disadvantages too. No mom to tell him to get up or to go to bed. No one to insist he go to class. But no mom either to tidy up the kitchen, vacuum the floors, or fix the shower drain when it plugs up.

There were, I hear, a number of squabbles between the roommates over household responsibilities, many beginning with words like “I only used one cup and one plate” or “Who drank all of my milk?”

I’ve heard from Nick, too, glimmers of new truths which, surely, show life progress. “Food is really expensive,” he told me one day. Then, “I can’t believe how much cheese costs.”

He’ll be living at home this summer where the food is free — for Nick. How the lessons of living on his own will be applied in the fall, I don’t know. I do hope that most of the security deposit is refunded because he’s going to need that money for his next apartment.

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