I just want it on paper that he stole a security deposit
April 30, 2012 5:53 AM   Subscribe

Just found out that the NYC Statute of Limitations is 6 years. The roommate stole my security deposit 6.5 years ago. Is it too late?

Moved into a cheap place in Brooklyn in 2005. My roommates, friends of a friend, called me in when their friend flaked out on them as a potential tenant. About a month in, they demanded a deposit that was equal to two months' rent, to be paid to the main tenant so the previous tenant could be reimbursed for his/her security deposit. (This sounds shady, and it probably was, but from reviewing other comments on AskMeFi it sounds like this is fairly common practice in NY. However, there'd been no mention of a deposit during the moving-in talks, but once it was mentioned the main tenant was being rather aggressive about it.) I went ahead and paid it. Obviously, and stupidly, there were no leases or agreements signed.

A couple of months later, a few days after collecting the month's rent, the main tenant called from out of town to say that they wanted me to move out at the end of the month because they had another friend that they wanted to move in. So this was less than 30 days' notice. I literally just gave up, packed up my things and moved home across the country a few days later. I was struggling with depression, uncertain employment, being new to NYC and other issues. This sort of cruelty doesn't faze me as much now, but in those days I just dissolved into tears and tried to get away from the situation. I didn't speak to the roommates or leave a forwarding address, though the main tenant certainly had my phone number and my permanent address from the checks. I eventually tried calling but the line was disconnected.

It never occurred to me to go to small claims court, especially after a few years passed and I had never moved back or even visited. I thought oral rental agreements were not binding and would not hold up in court, and I just assumed that the statute was 1-2 years, as it is in California. And so I finally thought to check by state and it's 6 years in NYC.

So: I know I should let it go. The lost deposit plus the forsaken rent is a little over a grand. Not chump change, but not enough to retire on. I don't even know that I can find out where the main tenant lives - a google search revealed that he was most recently working at some chumpy little grocery store in another state, but I can't find his residential address. So, obviously, he didn't take my stolen deposit and retire either, but theft is theft. Even if he were unable or unwilling to pay judgment, it'd still be of some satisfaction if I could get one filed against him, or send out a rent security complaint form, or something.

tl;dr: Worth filing, if only for peace of mind, a small claims or rent security complaint by mail for a NYC case while living out of that state, even though years have passed?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (12 answers total)
What you're asking is how the New York statutes apply to your particular set of facts.

This is legal advice, and requires the input of an attorney licensed in New York. Know that different states have different lengths for their statutes of limitations, including both differences between and within states. For example, in Indiana, bodily injury and property damage cases must be brought within two years, but contracts have a seven year period and the enforcement of judicial judgments can take as long as twenty years. I am not at all confident that six years is really the period you're dealing with here, as it may well actually be some shorter period.
posted by valkyryn at 6:01 AM on April 30, 2012

Consider the amount of time (valued at your working hourly rate) and expense that you're going to incur just trying to find the guy and sue him. Chances are that's going to be a lot more than $1,000.

It sucks to be cheated, but sometimes letting it go is the most prudent option. This seems like one of those scenarios.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 6:02 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

This sort of cruelty doesn't faze me as much now, but in those days I just dissolved into tears and tried to get away from the situation

Yes it does. You're trying to chase down a security deposit from 6.5 years ago, Googling people to crummy grocery jobs.

Let it go or find an attorney in NY.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:28 AM on April 30, 2012

I just want it on paper that he stole a security deposit

This will not make you feel as good as you think it will. Quite the opposite, actually: pursuing this now will have you ruminating on the ways this person wronged you, how unfair and cruel he was, how bad you feel that he got away with it, how much you wish you'd acted differently. Pretty much the only likely outcome of doing this now will be that you'll feel depressed and powerless.

You've learned what you can from this situation, and you're in a better place now than you were in 2005. Find a way to let it be a part of your past. This person mistreated you and stole from you--and now, you're a person who's smarter and healthier, and he's... a person who mistreats and steals from others, who works in some chumpy little grocery store. Let his misdeeds catch up with him some other way, don't waste your energy on him.

(I know this is hard. I can think of a couple people from my past who wronged me in similar ways. In my experience, I am happier when I accept that my being bitter about what happened just hurts me--even if letting go of bitterness means dropping my efforts to bring the other person to justice. That's not to say you should be a pushover, just that there's a big difference between acting immediately on something like this and acting years later: the former is fine and appropriate, the latter is usually a waste of time and effort.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:37 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

It doesn't necessarily sound like he stole it. I'm not trying to invalidate you, here, but usually in these situations when the new person moves in they repay the deposit, but it sounds like you kinda left with no forwarding address and without telling them? If so, you might try contacting the person now and saying "hey, if you have any of the deposit I would really appreciate it now".

But yeah, as mentioned above, it seems like you might be best letting this one go.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:42 AM on April 30, 2012

as others have said it would cost you more than you would likely get to sue the man. Finding him, serving him papers, filing fees, and a dozen other cost is going to get expensive.

And in the end you will be left with no way to prove your claim. You said there was nothing signed. How can you prove you gave him money? How can you prove the money was for a deposit? He could even claim he gave you the money long ago and ask the court how long is expected to hold onto a receipt.

No, you are far better off just writing it off as a learning experience.
posted by 2manyusernames at 6:51 AM on April 30, 2012

I am an attorney, but I am not your attorney. This is not legal advice. You should consult a competent attorney in your jurisdiction.

This is legal advice, and requires the input of an attorney licensed in New York.

Well, it would be legal advice, but the attorney would only need to be licensed in the state where the advice was given, not the state the advice is about (e.g. an attorney licensed and located in, say, Nebraska could advise you on the issue over the phone). That said, an attorney licensed in New York would be more likely to know the answer immediately or be able to find it quickly.

Anyway, just as in any case, the statute of limitations is not the only potential issue. Service of process, actually proving your case, and collecting the judgment (if there is one) are all potential hurdles. This is why you should consult a competent attorney in your jurisdiction. Any reputable attorney should offer a free initial consultation, and that may be all you need.
posted by jedicus at 7:32 AM on April 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Find out where he lives, file a small-claims case for $1500 in whatever state he's in, have the papers served on him, then don't show up to court. You'll be out $100 or so (depending on the state he's in now), you'll get to hassle him a bit, and you can get on with your life. Basically just dropping a legal fart into his life as a reminder.

But it's probably better just to let it go and have "living well" be the best revenge.
posted by rhizome at 9:10 AM on April 30, 2012

I'm not a lawyer, but I watch a shit-load of court shows. Let this one go.

While your story is compelling, I doubt that you have enough evidence to prove your case. As far as the statute of limitations is concerned, it's written in stone. So if time's up, that's the end of it.

Why are you letting these people and this one event rent space in your brain? Say to yourself, "I was young, vulnerable and ignorant then. I got taken. I know better now."

If it happened within the past year, I'd say pursue it. After 6.5 years, let it go.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:22 AM on April 30, 2012

I agree with Meg Murry that you're best off just letting this go. You're probably out the money, and your mental state stands to benefit the most if you put this in the past and move on.

That said, you don't necessarily have to sue to get some or all of your money back. If you can find this person, you can ask them for or demand repayment. They could say yes. They might not, but you don't really know, right?
posted by J. Wilson at 12:04 PM on April 30, 2012

Find out where he lives, file a small-claims case for $1500 in whatever state he's in, have the papers served on him, then don't show up to court.

This could easily be construed as abuse of process or malicious prosecution depending on your state, and can result in fines and/or an award of attorney fees if you're not careful. The courts do not like this sort of thing.
posted by valkyryn at 2:04 PM on May 1, 2012

OK, then try to get a continuance, or heck, just drop the case after it's served. The important part being that the person gets poked.
posted by rhizome at 3:36 PM on May 1, 2012

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