The recent court fight between Chastity Butler and Brenda Shelling focused attention on a subject that many tenants are unaware of and many landlords ignore: Tenants have rights that are protected by State and Federal law.
The issue involved Brenda Shelling, a landlord, who leased a property to Butler. When Shelling returned only a fourth of a $1,100.00 deposit claiming that Butler had “destroyed” her property, Butler sued Shelling and dragged her into Monroe City Court.
Butler won her suit against Shelling, only because she knew the law, kept records, photographs and text messages to document her claims.
The case is important to tenants because it showed that both landlords and tenants have rights as well as responsibilities.
Butler came into Monroe City Court armed with a copy of the Louisiana Tenant Rights laws, a stack of text message documents, photos, and witnesses.
Those who rent property might want to apprise themselves of the latest tenant rights laws.
In short, the law requires:
–THIRTY DAY RETURN OF DEPOSITS: Louisiana law requires landlords to return deposits to tenants a month after the tenant moves out. In the Shelling case, Butler’s deposit (partially) was returned almost two months after she moved out.
–TENANTS CAN SUE LANDLORDS WITHOUT A LAWYER: Butler took Shelling to court without a lawyer. She won and Shelling was ordered to pay all of Butler’s court-related expenses such as court costs and the cost of subpoenas for witnesses.
–NORMAL WEAR AND TEAR IS NOT CONSIDERED DESTRUCTION: Shelling tried to withhold portions of Butler’s deposit for what the court concluded was normal wear and tear. Shelling pointed to corrosion around toilets and soap dishes as examples of how Butler “destroyed” the property, but the court determined were normal wear and tear. Louisiana Tenant law allows tenants to make repairs to rental property and withhold repair costs from the rent.
–RENTERS CAN DEMAND UP TO $200 IF LANDLORD FAILS TO RETURN DEPOSIT: Even though Butler showed Shelling did not return any portion of her deposit until long after the 30 day limit, the court ruled that Shelling had a reasonable basis for withholding the whole deposit.
–IF RENTERS SUE AND WIN, LANDLORDS MUST PAY COST: Butler sued Shelling and prevailed. She did not have an attorney, but if she did have an attorney, Shelling would have had to pay her attorney’s fees. Shelling was ordered to pay all court costs, and the cost of subpoenas, according to state law.
–RENTER MUST RETURN PROPERTY TO LANDLORD AS THEY FOUND IT: Butler showed photographs and submitted witness testimony that the property was cleaned and returned to Shelling as she found it. They accepted her testimony with the exception that she left dishes in a dishwasher that may have contributed to it needing replacement. All other claims of “Destruction” by Shelling were attributed to wear and tear, as provided by state law.
–RENTER REQUIRED TO NOTIFY LANDLORD OF REPAIRS: Butler notified Shelling of several items in the property that needed repairing. She submitted 343 text messages that were unchallenged by Shelling, that contained mentions of items needing repair.
–LEASE AGREEMENTS MUST BE SIGNED: Shelling presented a copy of what she claimed was her standard lease agreement, it was not signed by either party. Butler contested the lease Shelling introduced as manufactured. Even though the lease was unsigned, the court ruled that the lease Shelling produced did not mention a $1,100.00 deposit. Louisiana law requires leases to be signed by both parties to be valid. The court ruled that in the absence of a signed lease, Butler was not bound by Shelling’s claims.
–TENNANT CANNOT MAKE ALTERATIONS TO THE PROPERTY: Shelling submitted that Butler left sticky tabs on the walls, that required removal and repainting. The claim was not accepted by the court as an alteration and was not addressed in the judgment.
The case of Butler vs Shelling because it highlights that there are laws that govern the behavior of tenants and landlords in Louisiana.
Shelling was an ordinary landlord who offended an extra-ordinary tenant, who knew her rights.
After adding up the court costs and judgment, Shelling got to keep $85.00 of the $1,100.00 deposit, but the whole dispute gave us all a refresher lesson on tenant and landlord laws in Louisiana.