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Q My wife and I own a modest but nice duplex in St. Paul.

We recently had two college girls who we thought would be good tenants. An aunt co-signed the lease. They are moving out at the end of their lease.

One of the girls had a boyfriend, which resulted in domestic dispute issues. They broke the doorjamb and latch. I fixed the latch, but to fix the fractured jamb would require replacing the whole door, which seems excessive in my mind.

How do I place a value on the damage to the unit in order to assess this against their damage deposit?

When they first moved in, they asked if they could paint. I said they could, but I advised they should do a good job of it. They painted the living and dining rooms bright pink on three walls and a mottled purple on one wall.

They painted the bedroom bright pink. They did a terrible job and painted over the natural trim wood. I realize I did not put anything in writing on the quality of the paint job or color of paint to be used.

Do I have any right to assess their security deposit for the poor paint job or for the color of the paint?

They asked me one day in May to replace a light bulb. When I arrived at the unit, no one was home. One of the window screens in the front of the house was ripped.

I repaired the window and asked them to pay for this repair. They declared that a burglar may have ripped the screen and so they are not responsible for it.

I anticipate if I keep a portion of the security deposit for these issues this will wind up in court. The aunt who co-signed the loan sends me letters denying all damages and by inference tells me I am lying.

A I am sorry for your problems. Often, problems arise when one side in the landlord/tenant relationship acts appropriately, and the other side takes advantage of the other's good intentions.

Minnesota Statute 504B.178 only allows you to charge the tenant for the actual repairs, and not for the diminution in value related to the structure or the portion of the structure you have to repair. So as to the doorjamb, it will have to be the entire jamb, or those amounts you actually incur to repair the problem.

Since you verbally agreed that they could paint, and then allowed them to do so, I don't think you can collect against them because you gave them permission. In essence, you allowed two inexperienced painters to choose the colors and paint the unit.

Next time, if you have tenants who want to paint, explain to them that you have to approve the colors and that professional painters have to come in at the tenants' expense, or it will not happen. You are running a business. I would like the booth at my favorite restaurant to look a certain way, but I don't expect the proprietor to let me redecorate.

As to the screen and window, if they were burglarized, they would have called the police. With no police report, there was probably no burglary. Either they were locked out and broke in, or their pets or someone they invited to the unit ripped the screen and damaged the window. Either way, they are responsible, and should pay the cost to repair the screen and the window.

You should send their deposit with the deductions itemized, and let them bring you to conciliation court to collect the rest. You have a good-faith basis for withholding the above amounts, and should stick to it.

Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Do not rely on advice in this column regarding a legal situation until you consult a qualified attorney; information provided by readers is not confidential; participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship, and no such relationship is created without a retainer agreement with Klein. If you have questions concerning renting, you can e-mail her at, post your questions at or write in care of Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488.