Damages Control

The Main Beach barbecues and Star Room nights may have ended with Labor Day, but one last Hamptons ritual is still in full swing: the dread September battle between summer renters and owners over security deposits.

“We usually have one or two bad ones a year,” says Joe Horstmann of Main Street Properties. “Everyone wants a 70-year-old couple that comes only on weekends, but that’s never the reality.”

The reality, of course, is parties and smuggled-in pets (even after owners have left pleas for TLC in the form of a Chardonnay-filled fridge). A tenant in a $75,000 Georgica rental had two dogs, one with serious bladder issues. “This house had wall-to-wall white carpet, and at the end of the summer, it was polka-dot carpet,” says Horstmann. It cost more than $5,000 to replace.

As a rule, the property – including the lawn, the pool, and the tennis court – is expected to be handed over in the condition in which it was received, minus “normal wear and tear.” Any legit damages are deducted from the security, which is typically 10 percent of the rental price. But, as Paul Brennan of Prudential Realty points out, “Your normal wear and tear might not be my normal wear, and that’s where the fun starts.”

Share-house rentals are obvious red flags (Josh Sagman, anyone?), but flare-ups seem to erupt over beachfront single-family rentals just as often. Even Park Avenue refugees with an army of housekeepers (Our kind of renters! think relieved owners) are known to leave behind crayon-covered walls. “Cutlery disappears,” says a Bridgehampton landlord. “They just throw it away instead of cleaning it.”

In fact, the worst fight that Scott Weiss, a broker with Harpoon Realty, has ever witnessed took place between renters and owners who, at first, seemed completely simpatico. “They loved each other.” But by September, there was no love left. Among other things, a tenant’s guest broke into one of the owner’s closets and decided to wear all of her clothes. Not only did the tenants forfeit their $750 security, they had to fork over $10,000 in damages.

Other times, it’s the owners who are being unreasonable – or just plain untruthful. “They told us, ‘You broke this platter; it’s $500!’ ” says a skeptical East Hampton tenant, convinced he’d spotted the very same dish at Ikea. And the owners of one “very posh” house deducted the bars of designer soap they’d provided, says Susan Sprott, a broker with Allan M. Schneider.

Brokers are often forced to mediate, though legally it’s not their job. Last year, Horstmann recalls, when one landlord refused to return any of the security, claiming a scratched pool liner and ruined floors, the fight ended up in small-claims court, with the landlord victorious. This year, some fear that the dip in rental prices may lead to extra-penny-pinching owners, but Brennan predicts that landlords (grateful to have rented to someone) will let a broken dish or two slide: “Renters will be welcomed back as opposed to being looked at as the enemy.”

That would be a nice change for most tenants. “Every year,” says one East Hampton regular, “we plan to have a get-back-together party in October using our security deposit. And every year, the drinks are never free.”

Damages Control