Let's see if I can answer some of these questions.
We hired a property management company to handle future tenants. We live in another state and being that we can't be there to do the work and document it all personally start to finish, it's been a headache this time around. The company we are working with advised us to keep the whole security deposit from these previous tenants and recommended a list of charges but we weren't comfortable with them and tried to keep the fees more reasonable and per items that are clearly outlined in lease agreement. Crazy fees to us were: $400 to clean, we didn't charge at all to clean. Granted they did not leave it in the same clean condition, we felt we would clean it anyway to our standards. We didn't charge $400 for carpet cleaning or the $300 for items left behind but did cut that charge down because there are large items they left and we need to hire someone to break them down and take.
Over half of their deposit was returned plus a 1% interest rate (including a pet deposit) with a written description on what was being "charged" and it was within 21 days. The check has since been cashed.
It's just the painting argument that seems to be an issue. If the colors were not so dark and looked to be in good condition, we may feel we could leave it but they even left behind their daughters name on one of the walls, which for our next tenant, I am definitely not comfortable with.
We would NOT paint the house if they did not paint. We would have left it as it was. This is why we put in the lease that we will allow them to paint as long as it was white or tan when the lease was terminated. We did not want to be left with something different then what was previously there and felt that putting this in the lease would help keep us covered from the unnecessary expense of hiring someone to paint. We estimated the cost to be around $350 for 1 bedroom and 1 living room with vaulted ceiling.