Give me back my money!
March 8, 2011 3:53 PM   Subscribe

How to get back a deposit from someone I was subletting a room from? (located in California)

I was on a month to month verbal lease with someone that just ended. I gave 30 days notice per our agreement and cleaned everything up so that it was just as clean (if not cleaner) as the day I moved in, so there is no legitimate reason for them to retain my $650 deposit.

So far they are not returning my emails or calls to send me my deposit. I documented everything, including the emails where they required a deposit to move in, kept a copy of the check I wrote them for the deposit, emails where I gave my 30 days notice, etc.

I know I could get a lawyer or go to small claims court etc, but I just want to know good ideas (cheaper and easier) that I can try first. I think I just need to "scare" them with some sort of vaguely legal threat to get them to return my money because (I guess) they just think I will roll over and not do anything.

Of course, advice on what to do if they continue to ignore me is also appreciated.

posted by buckaroo_benzai to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No need to be fancy here. Just send email/make a call letting them know you are taking them to small claims court, then go do it. IAMNYL, but I have trouble seeing that it would be cost efficient to hire a lawyer to collect.
posted by bearwife at 3:56 PM on March 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Take a look at the California Civil Code, section 1950.5.

There are strict rules governing security deposits. Send them a copy of that along with your next request for the security deposit to show that you understand the rules, and that you know they're in breach.

If that doesn't work, you can take them to small claims court. In California you can sue for up to twice the amount of the deposit, I believe.

IANAL. Good luck!
posted by iamscott at 3:59 PM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's what the California Department of Consumer Affairs suggests.

Excerpt (much more at the link):
What should you do if you believe that your landlord has made an improper deduction from your security deposit, or if the landlord keeps all of the deposit without good reason?

Tell the landlord or the landlord's agent why you believe that the deductions from your security deposit are improper. Immediately ask the landlord or agent for a refund of the amount that you believe you're entitled to get back. You can make this request by phone or e-mail, but you should follow it up with a letter. The letter should state the reasons that you believe the deductions are improper, and the amount that you feel should be returned to you. Keep a copy of your letter. It's a good idea to send the letter to the landlord or agent by certified mail and to request a return receipt to prove that the landlord or agent received the letter. Or, you can deliver the letter personally and ask the landlord or agent to acknowledge receipt by signing and dating your copy of the letter.

If the landlord or agent still doesn't send you the refund that you think you're entitled to receive, try to work out a reasonable compromise that is acceptable to both of you. You also can suggest that the dispute be mediated by a neutral third person or agency (Getting Help From a Third Party.) You can contact one of the agencies listed Appendix 3 for assistance. If none of this works, you may want to take legal action (see below).
posted by brainmouse at 3:59 PM on March 8, 2011

I don't think the OP has an agreement with the "landlord", this sounds like an informal, verbal sublet.

I agree, just contact them, let them know that you are filing in small claims court in two days unless you have your money. Then follow through.

I would speculate that they have no intention of returning your deposit.
posted by tomswift at 4:01 PM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Verbal lease is still a lease, dude you're subletting from is still a landlord, even if it's not super codified.
posted by brainmouse at 4:06 PM on March 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

"So far they are not returning my emails or calls to send me my deposit."

(i) Tell them you will file in small-claims court, using any--or preferably all--of the following options: (a) send a letter by registered mail, so as to make it more scary-official-like; (b) mention all of the items you've documented, so as to let them know you're not fucking around; (c) prepare the paperwork, and send them a photocopy of what you've prepared; (d) tell them you will be filing the originals in small-claims court the day after the deadline you set, and no later.

(ii) If they fail to pay, follow through. No exceptions. Exceptions mean you're getting screwed over.
posted by astrochimp at 4:17 PM on March 8, 2011

Sounds like you were subletting under the table from someone who had a lease with the property owner? I doubt any of the rental protection acts apply to you if you did not have a written lease with the actual owner of the property. The lease the person you were subletting from probably prohibited them from subletting the property anyway.

I think if they don't feel like paying you back the $650 you are basically out of luck without going to small claims court...

Send everything registered mail from here on out and give them a timeline. If they wont reply to you in your time frame get your ass to small claims court!
posted by outsider at 5:03 PM on March 8, 2011

Where in California are you located? Many cities (San Francisco, LA, etc.) have tenants' rights organizations that can help you with navigate enforcing your rights. A tenant that sublets is not technically a "Landlord" but a "Master Tenant" and they do have legal obligations to their sub-lessees even if they don't consider themselves a landlord.

Small claims court will be the ultimate solution, though. Don't be discouraged in pursuing it- Small Claims is designed for exactly this kind of scenario, and it sounds like you have the documentation to support your case.

This exact same thing happened to me 11 years ago, and the person I was subletting from ran off to Thailand, and I never bothered to follow through with taking her to Small Claims court because I wouldn't have been able to enforce a judgment against her. I've always regretted just letting it go. Don't be like me!
posted by ambrosia at 5:05 PM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

they do have legal obligations to their sub-lessees even if they don't consider themselves a landlord.

I should have said, depending on your jurisdiction. I know they do in San Francisco, but that may or may not apply statewide.
posted by ambrosia at 5:07 PM on March 8, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the great advice.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 6:02 PM on March 8, 2011

Response by poster: Ok, so I'm getting some pushback from the landlord although they are saying they will send me my deposit. Here's what's going on.

- I sent my intent to move out (30 day notice) via email on Feb 1 and also informed them in person

- I moved all of my stuff out of the room I was renting before Feb 14th (22 days ago)

- I had some stuff outside under the barn that I moved out on Feb 28th

- Landlord is requiring me to submit a letter stating my intent to move out (even though I am already long gone), after which they promise to return my deposit within 21 days of receipt of receiving the letter.

To me, I feel like my deposit is already past due since I was renting the room and vacated it completely on Feb 14th, 22 days ago. The fact that I left stuff outside under the barn is incidental since I paid rent up to March 2 anyway and had my 100% of my stuff out on Feb 28th.

I think at this point they are trying to stall.

Who is right? Do they have 21 days to return my deposit from my move out date (Feb 14; at which point they could have begun renting the unit to another tenant), or 21 days from the end of my 30 day notice (March 2, even though I hadn't been living there for 2 weeks)?
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 11:26 PM on March 8, 2011

You gave them 30 days notice on Feb 1, which means that legally you were renting until March 2 - your actual date of moving is not important, it was still legally your space. They have 21 days from March 2 to return the security deposit.

They received your intent to move via a written communication method (email), so that should count. However, if you hand them a letter today it might not be worth the extra week of fight if they don't return it until 3 weeks from today... I would definitely walk over there and hand it to them though.
posted by brainmouse at 9:06 AM on March 9, 2011

« Older All the somethings somewhere?   |   Looking for summer housing in DC Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.