What more can I do to try to get my deposit back?
August 29, 2010 3:21 PM   Subscribe

Pennsylvania landlord is illegally withholding my deposit after I moved out of state. Have I exhausted all my options?

My husband and I moved out of our rented house in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on April 30, 2010, per our lease, and our landlord failed to either send us a deposit check or a letter outlining charges within the legal window of 30 days. So, technically, we could try to sue him for 2X the amount of the deposit, but practically, that would be more expensive than it was worth as we've moved to another state. (Right? Unless someone has successfully done this sort of thing, in which case I'd love to hear about it...)

A relative who is a lawyer was kind enough to send a letter on letterhead requesting the deposit, which prompted our former landlord to send a letter, dated May 22 but postmarked August 10, outlining made up charges that conveniently added up to the amount of our deposit. I have some e-mails that contradict this letter, such as a note to my husband on June 7 mentioning that I'd spoken to the landlord and he'd said he'd send the deposit the next week. I'd like to cover all my (reasonable, inexpensive) bases before I give up, but my relative is busy with paying clients, so I'm looking into my remaining options.

I see here that one can file a complaint with the PA Attorney General's Consumer Protection Office. Are there any other resources specific to Pennsylvania or in general? And, has anyone successfully gotten a landlord to return a deposit by threatening to report him to something like this office, or is it smarter to send off the complaint, cc the landlord, and hope for the best but probably kiss the money goodbye?
posted by Meg_Murry to Law & Government (5 answers total)
In a lot of states, you should be able to recover legal costs when you sue over a lease agreement. So if your lawyer relative actually takes him to court, he should be able to get paid too.

If you go all the way to setting up a court date, they'll probably settle.
posted by delmoi at 3:28 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Talk to a lawyer local to where you used to live. It's unlikely that you will ever need to return to the area in connection with the case; as delmoi said, chances are it will settle.
posted by amro at 3:31 PM on August 29, 2010

I think a strongly worded letter that simply threatens legal action may be sufficient to get him to return the deposit. The trick is to make him think you mean business, especially if he knows that he doesn't have a leg to stand on. I'd start first by sending a letter detailing your case against him, citing local housing laws regarding dates and legal expectations, and see if he responds. If this doesn't work, directly but politely let him know that you will be pursuing legal action. At this point, he knows that you have a case and the inclination to make his life difficult. He may send you the deposit to avoid being charged 2x.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:33 PM on August 29, 2010

Based on my experience in Texas: My landlord (who was foreclosed on) failed to return my security deposit or provide written notice in 30 days, as Texas' statute requires. I did sue, and included the deposit plus the 3x "bad faith" damages the law allows. I won, but only got a judgment for the deposit and court costs (no attorney, so no legal fees there). It's been three months and I still haven't collected, even though this is a corporation I sued.

If you have the ability to sue--even if it's just filing by mail and getting the service arranged remotely--I would do it, but don't spend too much money on it, because you are probably going to be chasing a dead end.
posted by fireoyster at 3:34 PM on August 29, 2010

Typically in small claims you aren't allowed to use a lawyer, but there may be a way to have someone local appear for you. Call the small claims court and ask them, they tend to be pretty helpful. Also: sue him for the maximum and don't accept a settlement. Get that judgement on his Permanent Record so other tenants of his (both current and prospective) can benefit.
posted by rhizome at 3:54 PM on August 29, 2010

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