In mid-sept I will go to court in San Francisco as a plaintiff in a small claims case that I filed.
August 31, 2010 9:52 AM   Subscribe

In mid-sept I will go to court in San Francisco as a plaintiff in a small claims case that I filed.

In mid-sept I will go to court in San Francisco as a plaintiff in a small claims case that I filed. The issue is a matter of partial return of security deposit for a room rented for 6 weeks. The defendant's (name: XX) justification for withholding most of the deposit is that the room was not clean, trash was left behind, sheets were not washed, and bills were expensive that month. I maintain the room was left in a clean and orderly manner, that there was no damage to the property.

The security deposit paid was initially $200.00 I have filed for the amount of $145.00, of which XX wrote a check (which has not been cashed) for $68.63. Typically I would have let this go as the amount is so small, yet XX responded to all of my inquiries with hostility and defiance. Furthermore I've been cheated in the past and not acted so this also a matter of personal development.

I've read most, if not all of the documentation here:

I'd like to know if anyone has recent experience in SF specifically or elsewhere that might be helpful. I understand I need to make a quick "pitch" and that's what I've prepared below. Any advice would be appreciated. Please challenge everything I've noted here.

* INCLUDE DOC below is a note to self indicating that a copy of the email, receipt, etc. should be included. For brevity I won't include that here but will note that I used a polite yet firm, legal tone. In each correspondence I noted that I would escalate the matter to court.

1. On 1/15 I responded to XX's ad for $800/mo room

2. On 1/25 I paid XX $1206 for:
a. $800.00 - 1 mo. rent
b. $206.00 - pro-rated last week of January
c. $200.00 - security deposit

3. As agreed with XX in advance, on 2/27 I vacated the premises. The room was clean and without any damage when vacated.

4. On 2/28, the last day of February, I called XX leaving a VM informing XX of my new address for the return of the security deposit asking XX to return my call if XX had questions.

5. On 3/1 I sent XX email w/ forward address. *INCLUDE DOC

6. On 3/1 I received XX's response noting that only $50 of deposit would be returned. This was the first indication that XX would not return a fair portion of the $200 deposit. *INCLUDE DOC

7. On 3/1 I responded to XX's email asking that XX reconsider the
amount of returned deposit. I asked that by 3/6 XX return a "reasonable amount" of the security deposit. *INCLUDE DOC

8. On 3/2 XX responded noting FOR A SECOND TIME $50.00 would be returned. *INCLUDE DOC

9. On 3/4 I responded to XX: Please inform me of your intention by 3/6. I expect to receive the return of a reasonable amount of the deposit by 3/11. *INCLUDE DOC

10. On 3/10 I sent "demand for payment" (no less than $145) via electronic and postal mail. *INCLUDE DOC (asmefi note: this "demand for payment was copy/pasted from the website as suggested)

11. On 3/16 I received a letter via certified postal mail postal letter
and check from XX for the amount of $68.63. *INCLUDE DOC

12. INCLUDE? On 3/18 I rcvd email from XX noting that I had received the letter and check via certified postal mail. *INCLUDE DOC

No further correspondence.
posted by uhom to Law & Government (5 answers total)
It sounds like the real question is the condition of the room when you left. (I have trouble seeing the relevance of whether the sheets were washed, not an expensive proposition. I also don't understand the relevance of "expensive bills" -- did you have some sort of agreement to pay bills that was allegedly violated?)

So, the two critical items of evidence you want to present, if available, are 1) photos to show the condition when you left and 2) witnesses' account of the condition when you left.

The factfinder will be less interested in your recitation of the communication about returning the deposit, although of course it is nice to provide a summary chronology, atop tabbed copies of the correspondence.
posted by bearwife at 10:18 AM on August 31, 2010

So, did you sign a lease or anything? You seem to have your documentation in order but it would be helpful if you explained under what rationale you're claiming whatever number of dollars you are. If you do have a lease and it falls under the same three-week limit that normal apartment rentals do, you should refile for three times the amount of the deposit: the landlord has long since forfeited any portion of it. It's their job to get the money and an accounting of what was subtracted by the end of whatever they call the few weeks after you move out. I mean really, March.
posted by rhizome at 10:18 AM on August 31, 2010

I sued my last landlord last year for withholding my deposit. We settled the case in the mandatory mediation session before appearing in front of a judge. I had documentation and the benefit of mental stability.. It was an unpleasant experience but I don't regret having done it.

In small claims court, the burden of proof is pretty low. It's ultimately a "he said/she said" scenario where the judge has to discern the credibility of statements made by each party. Documentation will bolster your claims so make sure you take any and all documentation you have.

Do you have pictures or a witness that can attest to the condition of the premises? Does your landlord? Also, did you have a rental agreement or any contract that included what your responsibilities were as a tenant? It sounds like you rented a furnished room where linens were provided. Did the landlord ever perform housekeeping duties in your room? The outcome will be weighed on what is a reasonable condition to leave the vacated room. It's reasonable to expect the room to be returned in the same condition you rented it, minus wear and tear. I'm assuming you did leave the place "clean", but that's a definition open to interpretation.

The focus of your claim should be in the steps you took to leave the room in an acceptable condition. You need only mention your repeated attempts to contact and resolve the matter with the landlord. Present your correspondence if asked by the judge. The fact you contacted the landlord repeatedly is only evidence that you believe you're entitled to your entire deposit.

Dress neatly and keep things simple.

Good luck!
posted by loquat at 10:59 AM on August 31, 2010

Be aware, that even if you win, you might not ever collect.

Can you run a public records search (via Lexis/Nexis or some such database) to see if your landlord's been sued before?
posted by Ideefixe at 11:07 AM on August 31, 2010

Do focus on the pitch and appearing credible. When I went through a similar thing a few years back, I didn't come out quite as well as I could have because I assumed the facts would speak for themselves, and I'm afraid I came off a bit arrogant. The judge's, well, judgement is at least as important as what you or the landlord can and can't prove.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:09 AM on August 31, 2010

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