Family frustrated over rental security deposit

January 6, 2010 6:57:12 PM PST
When you travel in a group it can be less expensive to all stay in one big place. But be careful about your rental agreements. A Bay Area family put down a big security deposit on a rental and left the place spotless, but in the end they couldn't get the money back.

When Patricia MacDonald's son got married up at Lake Tahoe, the family rented a mountain chalet and all stayed together.

"Everybody had their own area which is sometimes when you're really close it creates more stress," she said.

The rental company, Premier Tahoe Vacations, required a $1,000 security deposit, but it would be refunded if they left the house in good shape. So before the family checked out, Patricia made sure to walk through the place with the manager to confirm there was no damage.

"She just took a piece of paper and wrote that the house looked fine and the final walkthrough would be conducted by the housekeeper the following day and that the security deposit would be returned in three to five business days," she said.

Everything seemed fine, but five days went by and Patricia had not received any refund. She called the vacation company and no one responded. She sent e-mails and kept calling and still no reply.

"I never thought she would just never respond. It was shocking, it really was," she said. "And the fourth week when I got nothing, that's when I tried to dispute it with my credit card company."

But she was out of luck there. The security deposit had been charged to her credit card months earlier, when she reserved the chalet, so the standard 60-day period for disputing a charge had already expired.

Travel attorney Al Anolik says landlords are supposed to refund security deposits within 21 days under California law if there's no damage.

"The general rule is security deposits are completely refundable. If you do damage, how do you protect yourself? When you move in you take a bunch of pictures when you move out take a bunch of pictures and you tell the landlord, I'd like a walkthrough when I leave," Anolik said.

Still none of that helped Patricia.

Patricia called 7 On Your Side and we contacted Premier Tahoe Vacations.

Owner Shara Stamler told 7 On Your Side she had not seen any of those e-mails from Patricia. She had assumed the security deposit was refunded long ago, so she wanted to set it right.

"I almost fell off my chair, but they're sending me the money overnight," Patricia said.

It was nearly six months late, but Patricia received a package by express mail with a check for $1,000.

"And it was like a miracle, I mean it was really wonderful," she said.

You double the security deposit if your money is not returned in a timely manner.