I get a lot of questions about “move in – move out” fees -here are some new ones:

“I have read a few blogs and found your website … I questioned the legality of my boards decision to impose a $[___] move in and move out fee. I noticed that you had a blog and I was wondering if I could ask a question.

Is “wear and tear” a justifiable move in and move out expense? We don’t have security doors, elevators, and if you scuffed a wall moving in, it would be my own wall outside of my condo since we all have separate doors.

I live in the State of Washington … can I take the Association to Small Claims. I know the small claims process and know that I would be taking the owner of the management company. Do you think this is a good option. I don’t know what else to do. I feel like my hands are tied.

Should I go to an attorney? I don’t have a lot of money to go to higher courts with an attorney.”

Okay, the short answers (ha, to the extent I am capable) are:

There needs to be some authority for a board to charge “Move in-Move Out” fees. I do not know Washington law but assume it is the same in most associations. My own opinion as an attorney in California would be that it (the authority) needs to be in the CC&Rs and not simply added to the rules to be enforceable, but will say there are attorneys who might argue that passing a rule is enough.

The point about “wear and tear” is an interesting one. While it may be appropriate to allow for some wear and tear over the terms of a lease when considering whether to return a security deposit, any damage caused while moving in or out is not the same.

A scuff on a wall or knick on a railing or chip on a door that occurs during a move within a condo or townhome would be the responsibility of the owner of the unit; likewise, ANY such damage done in the common area that needs to be repaired would rightfully attributed to the person who caused the damage. In the HOA or Condo context, this is would be the owner of the unit into or out of which a tenant is moving. Damage is commonly one reason boards consider “Move In-Move Out” fees. This reader mentioned some other common considerations. Sometimes the boards or management have to make special arrangements that involve a cost – to facilitate moves, such as padding elevators, having extra staff on site to supervise or secure areas, and the like.

Is small claims court a good option? I do not know the rules in Washington or limits, but small claims can be a good venue for an owner to test their legal rights. Asking return of money paid is the most common claim. Other type of remedies might be available in Washington jurisdictions. California small claims court judges can give orders in some cases, but it is limited.

And I do not know why an owner would sue the management company rather than the source of the charges, which I assume would be the association.

And do you need an attorney? It seems pretty simple. If there is not a lot of money involved, you could easily spend more on an attorney just to get an opinion than simply pay the charges for the fee or the damage caused and if you feel strongly, test your chances in small claims to get it back.

If you get one attorney involved, the direct result often is that the other side does too, and then both sides are paying much more in attorneys fees than damage repairs.

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