Deposit for old rental I don't live at.
December 27, 2009 10:32 PM   Subscribe

I moved into a house with some friends in Los Angeles California, we all split the deposit (shared was $700 each), things got weird and I moved out with the person moving into my room agreeing to pay my share of the deposit. That was a year ago and promises of "in the fall" have now gone silent. What do I do now?

Long story short: Roommate started dating ex-boyfriend of my girlfriend and he basically moved in within a week of them dating, so I moved in with my girlfriend and out of the house. The person who moved into my old room said they would pay me my share of the deposit in the fall. In June my girlfriend and I moved to Oregon and now that I've asked a few times with no response what should I do?

I will be visiting LA in a few weeks, should I file a small claims? Am I legally entitled to the person moving in and agreeing (written in email) to pay my share of the deposit (but hasn't) to do so? Legally am I entitled to it from the lease holder or do I need to wait for them to move from that property? The original lease was signed over a year ago in May 2007 and by now has probably reverted to month to month. I was never on the lease.
posted by wcfields to Law & Government (7 answers total)
The lease holder is not obligated to do anything for you, particularly considering the fact that you were never on the lease. It's good that you have the new tenants agreement in an email, and even the threat of small claims might get them to actually pay you back. Most likely though, you are going to have to wait until they move out to get your money back.
posted by sophist at 11:18 PM on December 27, 2009

I am not a lawyer.

The *easiest* thing to do is wait until everyone moves out and then ask again, but there's really no guarantee that will work, especially considering that things went weird anyway.

BUT- I think you'd have a good chance in small claims, especially as you have an e-mail stating what you both had agreed on- the lease holder, to me, doesn't enter into it at all. This kind of stuff is pretty much what small claims is for. This link from the Judicial Council of California may be of further help if you decide to go for it. Their "The Basics" page indicates that you go to court 20-70 days after you file, though, so you might need to plan on a return trip.

I think the considerate thing, however, would be to let them know that you are planning to file on X date unless you hear from them/receive a check, and then follow through if you need to. It's possible they just need some motivation and a reminder that you really mean it. If you have a lawyer/friend relative who can help you draft the letter (or draft it themselves) so it sounds official, all the better.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:21 PM on December 27, 2009

You weren't on the lease and your "replacement" is not on the lease--so all of it has been handled "illegally". The landlord will return the deposit to the signer of the lease. When that happens you can lobby to get your portion back. can also appeal to your replacement's ethics. That person is getting your spot that you arranged for and paid in advance for. They couldn't be there without your participation. So you could try to just give it a go...send them a registered letter. Nothing ventured nothing gained. You can threaten to notify the landlord. That MIGHT get someone to do something for you. The landlord is supposed to be told expressly who lives there. That obviously is not happening and it may be the only leverage you have until the original signer leaves---apparently even when that happens you will have to rely on the "good graces" of that person.
posted by naplesyellow at 11:29 PM on December 27, 2009

IANAL, but I have filed and won a small claims case. This sounds exactly like the sort of thing it's meant for. However, I'd keep in mind that winning is only useful if the person has the money to pay you. If they are so hard up that they'd resist paying even after losing in court, then it may not be worth pursuing.

I would have a private conversation, in a neutral / public place if possible, with the person in question, and tell them directly that while you'd rather avoid playing hardball you simply can't let this slide any longer. Present them with a choice: either they agree to a specific payment plan, with the first of X regular payments occurring either immediately or at their next pay period, or you will sue them. If they miss a payment, you will sue them. Make sure you at least know the basics of how to file a small claim -- the name of the court, the name and address of the building it's located in, the filing fee -- so that the way you talk about it makes it clear that you're not bluffing. Also, remind the person of the email agreement you have, so it's clear that you'll win if you do sue. Then, be willing to work with this person on a payment schedule they can actually manage. In other words, make paying you without going to court seem like the more attractive option.
posted by jon1270 at 3:41 AM on December 28, 2009

I was in a similar situation, except I was originally on the lease and moved off. I called every day twice a day for three weeks. Eventually, the person with a sense of ethics (not the person who owed me money) got tired of it and pushed person #2 to pay me. This only works if someone in the situation other than you feels a moral obligation to do what's right though.
posted by Kimberly at 8:16 AM on December 28, 2009


If you live far away and only visit every not so often, it might not be worth your time taking it to small claims. After travel costs and court costs, it actually might end up costing you more money than 700$. You could ask again and level with them person. See if they are just being a tool or if they seriously don't have it. Through experiences don't threaten with legal action unless you completely and totally mean to do it.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 8:49 AM on December 28, 2009

Without a written contract, it's all "he said..." All you can do is continue to pester the person.

IF you got something in writing, then you can go to small claims court. You MIGHT be able to get them to sign something NOW that could stand up. Offer to let them make payments, set up a WRITTEN schedule, both of you sign, and consider getting it notarized as well... That might give you more teeth and legal standing...

As far as the lease itself, you need to make sure to contact the manager/landlord to make sure your name is taken off, the "replacement tenant" is added, and everything is is copacetic that way, or you could be on the hook for damages and unpaid charges!
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 8:43 PM on December 28, 2009

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