Please leave a deposit at my doorstep
November 10, 2011 8:16 AM   Subscribe

SecurityDepositFilter: I think I'm being screwed in Virginia. The situation is complicating by many factors, but mainly by the unwillingness for either the landlord or primary tenant to communicate with me. I was a subtenant with no written lease but a legitimate verbal agreement.

Subleased apartment for six months from one other person (A), but there was a third roommate as well (B). Paid security deposit to person A that wasn't returned. Not sure how to proceed because no one is cooperative. This takes places in Virginia.

I moved out at the end of August and was in the apartment for six months, March-August.

I never signed a lease but there was an understanding that it was month-to-month (exact language used in initial emails with tenant A, unsure if other tenant B was actually on the lease). And based on my cursory research, it appears verbal 'leases' go month-to-month without an actual signed lease in VA.

I paid for all six months and a security deposit. I specifically wrote 'deposit' on memo line of actual check which was for approximately $600. All of my checks were cashed and I have copies of them from my online banking website.

It was understood, although not explicitly stated that I would be moving at the end of August due to relocation for work. The reason it was never explicitly stated was because it didn't seem like my roommates intended to move. They had been looking for a replacement roommate for about a month or so.

I found out they were moving mid-August only a week or two before. Not a big deal as I assumed notice was given to the primary landlord and they had paid whatever was owed.

According to tenant A, notice was given the first week of August and we/they may actually be on the hook for all of September's rent.

*Fast forward to November*

I have called the landlord and he was incredibly unhelpful. Refused to provide copy of lease or discuss any details and I believe it's because he doesn't have the original lease. Based on my questioning, I am 90% that is the case. He couldn't speak to any specifics and was acting offended that I would even want to see it. He was aggressive and claimed he wasn't going to go after tenant A in court because she was a 'good' tenant. However, he refused to clarify what he would go after her for (rent, deposit, damage).

Tenant A has ignored my emails and communications since August. I have started calling tenant A regularly for the last week. The first time I called she did answer her phone (likely no realizing it was me) and we discussed some of what was going on. She seemed cagey about the whole thing and said she 'now is not a good time to talk'--fine. We agreed to talk the upcoming Saturday. I called three or four times over the course of the day and was not obnoxious about it. In fact, when we spoke a few days earlier I was calm and just wanted to understand what was going on.

I suspect tenant A did not pay all of the rent for September or otherwise broke the lease, but I can't confirm it without the lease. She claimed it wasn't worth pursuing the landlord for our security deposit (in my opinion, her security deposit). I feel like I'm subsidizing/offsetting her mistake or decision to write the whole thing off as a loss--again, can't even confirm is this is a 'loss' for her. Of course, I had no input into this decision and the total 'expected' security deposit is significant (~$2000). This also assumes that she paid a security deposit to the landlord in the first place. Again, no one will clarify any of this.

I have read through VA housing and tenant code, but my situation is complicated by the fact that I only know what I have done--and I think I upheld all of my financial responsibilities. If tenant A would speak with me, I would be more than happy to go after landlord (not sure we got notice that our security deposits were being withheld, and I think that is a violation). Right now, I just want (some) of my security deposit back and since I paid it to tenant A, I think I need to get it back from them.

I always read these types of dispute threads and think "man, that person totally should have gotten that in writing, what a bozo...". Now, I'm that bozo. So thank you in advance for the advice.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
First, write A a letter stating that you require your security deposit returned by x date. Then, start looking into small claims court. Leave the landlord out of it, all your dealings were with A, right? So that's who you need to deal with.
posted by bq at 8:24 AM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a landlord in Virginia. Your landlord didn't have a contract with you, he had it with person A. That is the only person he has an obligation to in this circumstance.

I'm sympathetic to your situation and if it were me I would probably step in and ask all the renters to sort out their issues. I'm not a lawyer, but I think your grievance only extends to you and whoever you subletted from, not that landlord. Your best case is if you have a leasing agreement with Person A that you can enforce in small claims court, if it comes to that.
posted by dgran at 9:14 AM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Credible persons have stated to me that there are no oral contracts in VA.

I think the landlord's refusal to deal with you is quite reasonable. You are not his tenant, A is his tenant. Were I him I would no more engage with you over this than I would because A had borrowed a bunch of your CDs. Neither is A's arrangement with B any of your concern.

Quit screwing around with trying to suss this all out, particularly other people's arrangements. They're to your advantage - you didn't provide the landlord a security deposit, you provided one to person A.

Send person A a certified letter with return receipt required which states you want your money back in full or you're filing in small claims court on date X, 30 days from now. Then do it.

If it's not worth the small claims filing fee to possibly get your money back then take this as a lesson and move on. If it is you can find the NOLO guides on how to file or look at the VA document.
posted by phearlez at 9:56 AM on November 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you prevail in small claims court, you can recover the costs of filing and any other associated fees in addition to your deposit. You can also seek statutory damages which is typically the amount of deposit for each infraction of the 'lease'. If you write tenant A a letter, do include that information and cite the landlord/tenant laws that govern your state of residence.

This might scare tenant A into being more responsive to your refund demands, however, if s/he fails to work this out with you, do go to court. I don't understand adults behaving this way and this is the perfect situation in which you should assert your rights. I've sued my landlord in court and won back my deposit in mandatory mediation. It was not the best situation but I gained a lot from the experience, not to mention $670!
posted by loquat at 11:53 AM on November 10, 2011

Also, not having anything in writing doesn't negate your rights as a tenant. A de facto lease is assumed here and you are entitled to your deposit! Make sure you document everything -- phone calls, even the ones that went ignored, any conversations you've had with the landlord and tenant A because it will help your case in civil court. Essentially it will boil down to who is the most credible.
posted by loquat at 11:57 AM on November 10, 2011

You have a cancelled check that they deposited in their account, it would be good for you to relay this fact to them with an attitude as if you have them by the balls. At the very least, and if they refuse further to deal with you, you can file a police report for theft. Then file your small-claims case.
posted by rhizome at 12:01 PM on November 10, 2011

Small claims court. Bring your canceled checks, explain your story. Also, get in touch with the tenants' right organization in your area for advice.
posted by theora55 at 4:47 PM on November 10, 2011

The OP has asked us to post this update:
Thank you very much for the feedback. I will continue to pursue this.

I have a point about 'cancelled checks' to clarify from this comment:

"You have a cancelled check that they deposited in their account"

I didn't cancel any of the checks as they were all cashed? Are you saying checks can be cancelled after they are cashed? Sorry for being so dense, I'm just a bit confused. Thank you!
posted by taz at 1:29 AM on November 11, 2011

Are you saying checks can be cancelled after they are cashed?

I believe people are referring to getting a copy (digital or otherwise) of the check image that shows that they signed the back and deposited the funds.
posted by dgran at 5:26 AM on November 11, 2011

By the way, regarding those checks - they might be useful to you down the road if you do prevail in court. Winning is a different step from collecting, particularly if you win by summary judgment because they don't show. If they haven't switched banks then it will be particularly useful to you to have that bank & account information on the back of your check.
posted by phearlez at 8:44 AM on November 11, 2011

OP: A "cancelled check" refers to a check that has been processed by a bank.
posted by rhizome at 10:07 AM on November 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

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