Landlord does not return security deposit. help needed
January 12, 2012 7:05 PM   Subscribe

I live in the state of pennsylvania in montgomery county.I rented apartment from craigslist on a verbal monthly lease with $650 security deposit. After 8 months I gave the landlord moving out notice of 30 days to find a new tenant. its been almost 11 months and she has not given me $300 of the initial security deposit back. I cleaned the house and she had no issues. Is there any way i can get the money back. I have tried to contact the person multiple times through email and phone but no reply.
posted by radsqd to Work & Money (15 answers total)
With a verbal lease, I doubt you have much chance of proving she owes you the money.
posted by HuronBob at 7:09 PM on January 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

you may be SOL, but I'd contact Housing and Community Development and ask them about your rights. They should either be able to tell you how the laws apply, or direct you to someone who can.

Laws around leases are there to protect landlords and tenants equally, so if people choose not to use those laws to protect themselves they risk losing out of money and learning a valuable life lesson.

Good luck
posted by zombieApoc at 7:13 PM on January 12, 2012

Small claims court is perfect for this sort of thing.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:14 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

How did you pay this deposit? Cash? Check? Money order?

If by check or money order, did you write "SECURITY DEPOSIT" on the for line?
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:24 PM on January 12, 2012

If you don't have a lease, you're probably screwed. Chalk it up to a first time mistake and a learning opportunity. Never, ever, ever move in somewhere without a lease.
posted by deathpanels at 7:31 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

cash, check, or what?
posted by rhizome at 7:31 PM on January 12, 2012

Just wanted to add that a friend & I went to small claims court on a similar landlord issue. It was definitely a "we said" vs. "he said" case with no real evidence. The judge ruled in our favor.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:42 PM on January 12, 2012

The lack of a written contract may or may not be dispositive. You should see if small claims is a good option for you. Or talk to a lawyer, but for that amount of money, I don't blame you if you forgo a lawyer.
posted by Happydaz at 9:17 PM on January 12, 2012

Response by poster: A check was written and i have a long email conversation between her and me about the whole ordeal. Is email sufficient proof of payment?
What kind of experience have people had with small claims court and are there any fees involved?
posted by radsqd at 9:27 PM on January 12, 2012

You could try filing a complaint with the Attorney General. Or, you could mention to the landlord that you'd been advised by the AG to file a complaint, but you'd really rather not, unless she leaves you no other choice.
posted by pajamazon at 9:36 PM on January 12, 2012

I was in a similar situation to yours but in reverse. I was the landlord and I foolishly rented to someone on a verbal lease since she was a friend of a friend. She moved out and her check for the last month's rent bounced, and I was trying to get in touch with her for almost a year afterwards by phone and email with no response. She moved to Hawaii so small claims court wasn't an option.

It might not work as well in your situation since you are the renter, but what I did was I found a website where you can pay $20 and they will send a few threatening, official looking letters on your behalf, that say something vague about how the debt has been turned over to this agency and that if the debtor doesn't pay up within 30 days that they will take further action, blah blah blah. It's meaningless but it looked official, and it's a series of 3 letters that you buy that escalate in intensity, for her it only took one letter and she sent me the check right away. It was well worth the money I spent.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:25 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1. Look up landlord-tenant law in your jurisdiction. Be sure of the security deposit rules, the penalties for non-compliance (sometimes double or triple damages), and the legal citation.
2. Write a formal, terse letter to the landlord citing these facts and informing them that unless you get your money back by [date] you will be taking legal action. Send it certified, so they have to sign for it.
3. (optional) Have a lawyer write a demand letter for you. Iffy for $300, but if there are damages involved, the landlord could end up footing your legal costs.
4. Take 'em to small claims court. Assemble your evidence (including the certified mail receipt). Anticipate the landlord's objections from your prior contacts (e.g. counterclaims about mess left behind, back rent, timing of notice, etc.). In small claims the legal standard is preponderance of the evidence; you don't have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the way the state must in criminal cases.

Really, a lot of landlords will just depend on you not knowing your legal rights or not having the time/energy/motivation to follow through. Showing them you are otherwise might be all that's needed.

With a verbal lease, I doubt you have much chance of proving she owes you the money.

This is not really true. Oral contracts are enforceable, it's just harder. Many, many rental agreements are oral. The court considers that fact normal.
posted by dhartung at 12:12 AM on January 13, 2012

Best answer: I had a similar problem. Sending an official looking letter, with a return receipt on it was enough to scare them into sending the deposit. Maybe try that first.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 8:47 AM on January 13, 2012

Response by poster: From advice here,Iam going to send out this letter (PDF) to her using certified mail. If she still does not reply, iam officially going to small claims court.

Thank you all.for your answers, Hopefully I can get my money back finally.
posted by radsqd at 9:20 AM on January 13, 2012

Based on my own experiences and reading others', I'd say that your email thread and your canceled check will be plenty compared to what the landlord can bring to court. If the landlord acknowledged that the check was a deposit, or really anything besides straight-up rent (this is what I use the 'memo' line on a check for, btw), that will make it even easier. That they aren't replying to you tells me they are just trying to starve you out. Try the nastygram, but don't sweat small claims either.
posted by rhizome at 11:10 AM on January 13, 2012

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