Q: I am moving out of the Yorkville apartment that I’ve been renting in a condo. The management company says the condo board has mandated a $1,250 Covid-19 cleaning fee, on top of the standard move-out fee. My lease included a rider stating that it was subject to the provisions and bylaws of the condo, but $1,250 seems like an absurd amount of money to clean a 650-square-foot apartment, and unnecessary when it’s been shown that surfaces are not high-risk. Do I have to pay this?
A: Depending on the wording of that rider and the rules of the condo, you may not be subject to the fee. But you need more information.
If the charge is a house rule, which is likely, it’s possible that the rider you signed does not require you, as a renter, to comply. It’s also possible that the condo’s bylaws don’t let it enforce house rules at all, giving you another out, according to Andrew J. Wagner, a real estate litigator and a partner in the Manhattan office of the law firm Herrick, Feinstein. So before you cut a check, ask to see a copy of the bylaws, the board’s resolution and the notice that your property manager received about it.
If you find that you are not obligated to pay, tell management. If you get pushback, hold your ground. Remember, landlords cannot use a security deposit to cover attorneys’ fees, late fees, additional rent and other miscellaneous charges, like Covid cleaning fees. So the management company would have to take you to small-claims court after you move out to recoup the money.
Should it turn out that you are obligated to pay, there is still room for negotiation. The goal is to safely and properly sanitize the apartment, not fleece you.
“How is the money spent, and by whom? Is it a special cleaning company that specializes in Covid?” Mr. Wagner said. “Perhaps the tenants can find someone to perform a comparable cleaning for less money.”
If you haven’t reached a deal with management by the time you vacate, write a letter stating your reasoning and hand it in with your keys. The company may try to deduct the sum from your security deposit anyway, and you would have to file a claim in small-claims court to get it back.
So talk to the building’s managing agent — you might have an ally, since the company didn’t create the rule, isn’t collecting the money (the condo board is) and will be stuck paying the bill if you don’t. Perhaps there’s a way they could negotiate with the condo board on your behalf to come up with a more reasonable solution.