Last spring, I published an article detailing my struggles with my previous real-estate management company McNamara Realty. I received an overwhelming amount of support, and as I suspected, I was not alone in my struggle. At the time my piece was published, many things regarding my rental situation were unknown and pending. Nearly nine months later, however, McNamara is finally out of my life, and I thought it might be pertinent to share how my experience turned out.
Upon moving out of our rental, which was secured through McNamara, my roommates and I secured alternative housing in a house we love (a wonderful change). But, our problems with McNamara did not end there.
Our first issue came from a disagreement concerning our lease-termination day with McNamara. When McNamara initially offered to end our lease early, they did not specify any conditions (i.e. a notice of seven days, etc). Thus, my roommates and I accepted this unconditional offer, and moved out as soon as possible.
We had paid in full for the entire month (rent was due on the first), and moved out five days early. Due to the circumstances surrounding our move-out, my roommate and I believed we were owed a prorated sum for the time we had paid for but would not use.
McNamara did not see things this way — the realty group was doing us a “favor” by allowing us to move out early. And, many visits and phone calls did nothing in the way of resolving this issue.
Additionally, upon vacating the property, my roommate and I returned our keys and parking permits, and we were sure to receive documentation proving so. We also took in a written letter detailing the time and date of our move-out, as well as asserting that we were allocating 21 days (as determined by California law) for the return of our security deposit and the prorated rent. If 21 days passed with no response, we informed McNamara that we would proceed to litigation.
Unfortunately, McNamara failed to respond. My roommate, Annie Schiowitz, and I then filed a claim with the San Luis Obispo small claims department for a sum of more than $5,000. About a week later, we received our court date for late August and then had nothing to do but wait.
In the meantime, McNamara returned our security deposits, claiming they were late because we had not provided a forwarding address. (Note: receiving (most) of our deposits back lessened our claim to the $2,500-3,000 range). Included with the deposits were lists detailing deductions incurred during our residency. These ranged from carpet cleaning, to soot in the fireplace, to dust on the windowsills, to failure to return parking permits. With the exception of carpet cleaning, all deductions were fabricated.
On Aug. 20, 2010 Schiowitz and I met at the Veteran’s Hall in San Luis Obispo to present our claim. The small claims system in San Luis Obispo emphasizes mediation over litigation, and we were encouraged to meet with the McNamara representatives first to try to resolve our problem(s) on our own.
Unsurprisingly we were unable to resolve our matter with mediation — McNamara did not agree we were entitled to much of anything. Thus, we presented our case to the judge, and were rewarded compensation for our security deductions, prorated rent and were granted a lump sum resulting from the neglect McNamara bestowed on us during our tenancy, primarily with regards to the mold problem (which totaled $1,400).
I am sharing this story not to boast that we won against McNamara Realty. Rather, I am sharing this story to illustrate that students have rights when it comes to renting. California tenant law covers a lot of ground, and students are entitled to much more than they may be aware.
Cal Poly has a lawyer that comes to campus every other week to meet with students (for free), and to discuss legal proceedings and answer related questions. Cal Poly also has a multitude of professors and instructors with legal backgrounds that are willing to help. Christopher Perello, a business professor at Cal Poly, was a godsend for me. He met with me whenever he could to spell out my rights and assist in the process of getting to court.
The only way to change your situation is to be proactive and to educate yourself. If you think you are being mistreated and abused by your landlord, don’t be afraid to speak up. Always try to resolve things on your own if possible (I wish we had been able to), but don’t shy away from legal action if you cannot find an adequate resolution.
I hope no one else goes through the hell we did with McNamara Realty (though I fear we will not be the last). If you do, however, I hope I can motivate you to act.