PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When Rachel Brooks was getting ready to move out of her apartment at the Vue in Southwest Portland, she says she was told that the unit was going to be renovated.
“I was told I could do a basic cleaning – that I didn’t need to do anything super intensive,” Brooks said. “I believed that.”
But a month passed, and Brooks never received the $750 security deposit she had put down. She also hadn’t received an explanation as to what was being withheld from the deposit and an explanation why. Oregon law requires that landlords either return security deposits – or provide a detailed accounting of why a deposit is being fully or partially withheld – within 31 days.
After Brooks’ mother Andrea Brooks reached out, they were told that the Vue would be keeping $440 of the deposit.
In an email shown to KOIN 6, Andrea Brooks wrote to the Vue’s manager at the time, questioning the charges. She wrote, “[I]t is unclear why there are charges of $440.90 deducted for cleaning, painting, resurfacing, light replacement, and final UBI (what is that?) from the deposits for an apartment that was going to be gutted.”
Rachel Brooks called the exchanges unprofessional and dishonest.
“When my mom probed further, she was given pretty insufficient evidence as to their justification for keeping the deposit,” she said.
The Brookses weren’t the only ones questioning the Vue’s handling of security deposits. Another former renter, Jaanna Anaemereibe, filed in small claims court in January. In his complaint, he said he was told his security deposit would be returned to him by August 10, 2017 – within a month of his lease ending.
In advance of the security deposit being returned, Anaemereibe said he made a payment toward his student loans, his new apartment, his phone bill, and his credit card bill.
The security deposit, he said, wasn’t returned to him until October – two months later than it was due. And like Brooks, Anaemereibe said he didn’t understand the charges. The delayed security deposit, he said, created financial hardship.
“I was late on my phone bill payments for the month of September and October, as well as my federal loan payments, and I had to borrow money [from] friends and family in order to pay back the original amount and interest I owed for the payday loan,” he wrote in the complaint.
The Vue eventually agreed to pay Anaemereibe $3,000 – more than twice the amount of his security deposit. But Anaemereibe had to file a declaration of non-compliance, because the check wasn’t sent by the date agreed upon in court.
“What bothered me most was that they didn’t see everything that it had cost me, because of their negligence,” Anaemereibe said by phone from Atlanta.
Portland Tenants United organizer Margot Black said the only recourse renters typically have is small claims court.
“Tenants only have the court process, if the landlord doesn’t voluntarily say I broke the law and will pay the damages,” Black said. Even so, Black said the court process can take months, and she said renters have to act as their own legal advocates.
“It’s absolutely the case that landlords assume that certain classes of tenants don’t know their rights,” Black said.
Brooks and her mother were hoping that by informing the Vue that they were in violation of Oregon law, the full security deposit would be returned. That hasn’t been the case. Andrea Brooks said a check for part of the security deposit was sent, but her name was misspelled, rendering the check unusable.
KOIN 6 reached out to the Vue’s local management in Portland and corporate property management in Los Angeles multiple times. Local management said they couldn’t speak to the issue and directed KOIN 6 to James Baumann at JRK Property Management; calls and emails to Baumann went unanswered.
Rachel Brooks, speaking earlier this fall, said she and her mother may pursue an action in small claims court. She said it’s been upsetting, especially since she knows that most of the residents at the Vue are college students.
“I think that enough people don’t know their rights in situations like this. That allows property management, like at the Vue, to get away things like this,” Rachel Brooks said. “I think that’s highly problematic.”
Black said situations like this show the flaws in the state’s housing laws.
“When landlords break the rules, tenants have no power,” she said.