CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCBD) — Almost everyone has, or will, sign a lease for an apartment, condo, town home, or house.
In South Carolina, there is an entire Act dedicated to the rights both tenants and landlords have when they sign a lease.
The almost 20-paged Residential Landlord and Tenant Act outlines, among other things, what a tenant should do; what a landlord should do; and how the leasing process should go.
Legal experts say every tenant should take a look at the Act, which is available online.
However, the legal terms in the law are difficult for the average person to understand. News2’s Libba Holland spoke with lawyers to point out the important parts of the Act.
“There are protections that are granted to tenants to allow them to hire an attorney,” said Attorney Josh Crowfoot.
Emma Bowman, who now lives in North Charleston, was not refunded her security deposit upon moving out of a Summerville rental home.
The rental company claimed the house was not sufficiently cleaned and maintained.
Bowman disagreed, so she took the company to small claims court. She received a judgement for about half of her deposit amount.
Six months later, she still has not received payment from the rental company.
She says the sheriff’s office could not find the rental company’s assets. Now, she’s headed back to court to find them herself.
“At this point, I just want to see where does this end? At what point do you get your money back? And if I got to pay money until I find out, even if I’m going to lose it, I’ll do it until I’m good and sick of myself,” Bowman said.
Charleston attorney Josh Crowfoot wants landlords and tenants to know: The law has your back.
“Under the Act, there are protections that are granted to tenants that will allow them to hire an attorney that can get the deposit for them, and pay for the reasonable attorney’s fees,” said Crowfoot.
He does advise people to research landlords before signing a lease.
“Landlords do their due diligence on tenants. They call the previous landlord of the tenant; they do credit checks. Tenants can do the same thing,” he said.
You also should determine who the landlord actually is; it can be different from the property’s.
The Act defines the landlord as a “lessor or sub-lessor.” Those terms refer to the person a tenant signs a lease with. The law also says a manager of the premise could become a landlord.
“If the manager doesn’t, at the start of the lease, tell you who the owner is and their address at the start of the lease, they just became the landlord,” said Stephen Spitz, a former law professor.
Tenants can also ask to have the security deposit put in an escrow account to ensure the funds don’t disappear.
Another section of the Act stresses the importance of livable conditions.
“You live there. If the heat doesn’t work or the water doesn’t work or the air conditioning doesn’t work or if it isn’t reasonably fit to be an apartment, [Section] 4-40 deals with all of those issues,” said Spitz
Bowman plans to defend herself in court again. She hopes the experience will at least deliver answers.
At this point I really don’t think I’m going to get the deposit back,” she said. She says she still wants to know where the money is, for the “sake of knowing and letting someone know this process exists,” said Bowman.
Crowfoot and Spitz emphasize the importance of hiring legal counsel to help tenants understand the law. Landlord rights are also listed in the law, as well.