Deposit, gas bills
December 12, 2012 7:46 PM   Subscribe

How do I go about tying up the financial loose ends of my last apartment?

I live in California, and I moved out of a room in a house that I was renting on October 1.

The issues are 1) deposit and 2) gas/power bill


I haven't been paid my deposit back yet. I've been texting the landlord, and he has said rather explicitly that he needs someone to move into my room in order to get the money to pay back my deposit. I understand this is rather illegal. He keeps telling me a date by which he probably will have the deposit, but that keeps passing.

I'm looking for *practical* advice for the most likely way I'll get the money back. What do I go about doing so that he's most likely to pay up?


The tenants paid the gas and power bills. One different tenant was on each bill (neither me), and I had agreed to pay 1/5, my share, of each bill. However, this house was kind of a slum house and the bills were infrequently paid... my impression was they were always stringing the power company along, staying just above getting it shut off, and in six months I only made one power payment and no gas payments (because that was when I was asked).

I left my phone number with the tenants whose name is on the bills, but they've never contacted me about paying. To what extent do I have to seek out paying these bills? If there are late fees, do I have to pay my share of those? I want to square these accounts, but I also don't want to be scammed, so I need documentation of what is my share. Do I need to contact the tenants to see how much I owe? I'm afraid of paying some, getting them to sign something saying I paid, and then getting asked to pay more and more and have that signature be claimed invalid.
posted by lewedswiver to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1) In California, he had 21 days to return it or tell you the valid damages he was keeping it for. What worked for me in Washington State with similar laws was to call the landlord, and say that I would send a letter the next day by certified mail requesting return of the deposit, and then two days later I would begin a claim in small claims court if I had not received the deposit or satisfactory evidence it was on its way. He mailed the check that evening (this was after about five months of chasing him).
You want to read ~page 62 of the CA tenant's rights doc and as it says, probably contact one of the listed assistance agencies before you actually go to small claims court. If he literally doesn't have the money you can't get it out of him, but if you pressure him the right way you can maybe raise the priority your bill has against his other commitments.

2) I wouldn't seek out anything here. I'd put aside about $100, if you don't have that kind of cash readily on hand, to be ready if they ever do come and request something, but I would definitely not contact them, it sounds too sketchy and likely to get you screwed over.
posted by jacalata at 7:59 PM on December 12, 2012

Your only real remedy if the landlord refuses to return your deposit is small claims court, where you will probably win. Whether or not he can pay is a separate issue.
posted by twblalock at 8:13 PM on December 12, 2012

Small claims court for the deposit. Send that certified and return receipt letter asap! It's the first step, and hopefully he'll pay you once he sees you are serious.


Normally I don't counsel skipping out on a bill or roommate responsibilities, but in this case I 100% will. Heaven KNOWS what you have just put yourself on the hook for! You have nothing in writing and this whole thing is sketchville!!

Do not tell thieves, scammers, or irresponsible types you owe them money. Pay them if they contact you and provide proof, but at this point, I'd say you should definitely not offer to take on this burden since you are relying on others to provide you with factual information and you can not contact the utilities about the accounts directly to confirm anything. Know what I mean?

You've dealt in good faith on both issues and haven't beenmet with same. It is time for you to become wary and wise in your next moves.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 10:52 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it helps put your mind at ease regarding the utilities, here's how I would look at it. You have already left your phone number with the people who are directly responsible for those bills, which is all you can actively do. If they ever do come to you looking for money, you should be prepared to pay your share of the original amount billed for each month that you were there, but no late fees because the lateness was never your fault. In order to establish these amounts, they will have to produce the actual billing statements for each month that you were there. This is a perfectly reasonable position to take. Given how they seem to be generally mismanaging their finances, I doubt they will ever get their acts together enough to accomplish this. Since your name isn't on the accounts, they have no obvious leverage with with to pressure you for more.

For the deposit -- yeah, you may as well play a little hardball. Chances of success don't sound great, but the do-nothing plan doesn't appear to be working either. My last landlord was a lawyer and generally had her act together, but she still took far longer than the law permits to return my deposit, even after acknowledging in writing that I'd left the apartment in sterling condition. I finally sent her an email citing the number of days it had been since I'd moved out, and gently suggesting that the delay was ridiculous. I never explicitly said I'd sue her if she didn't send me the deposit, but she clearly knew I could have, and that it would have only gotten more expensive for her. She snarkily apologized and put a check in the mail the next day.
posted by jon1270 at 2:38 AM on December 13, 2012

Ah, the sweet memories of living in Cali slumlord rentals.

1) Have you done more than just text the landlord? Send him/her a written demand for the full amount of the security deposit and send it by certified mail. Keep a copy of the letter. If landlord does not cough up the money, your next stop is small claims court (which is why you need the written, mailed request for your money back; this is proof that you have demanded it and proof that the landlord has received it). Do not pass go, do not text, just send that letter.

It is possible (probable?) given the fact that this is a slumlord who says he "needs the room rented" before you get your security deposit back - that the landlord doesn't have the money. Never mind that, it is the landlord's responsibility to have that money and return your deposit or come up with solid proof (in the form of cleaning or repair bills) why not.

2) Keep your mouth shut about the utilities. Do not claim responsibility. You gave your phone number as a contact and that is plenty and that is all you should do. Don't pay anything without seeing the bills that you supposedly need to chip in on. For God's sake don't initiate any contact with the ex-roommates, or offer to pay anything without seeing a bill - that will give them an opportunity to extort money from you. If they are flakey and don't try to collect, that's their problem.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:07 AM on December 13, 2012


The utilities aren't an issue for you. If anyone tries to get you to pay anything, be SURE to put "full and final payment" on the check or money order you are paying with. Keep the copy forever. Don't pursue this. Let them come to you. Give yourself a cut off date, say 6 weeks after your last day there. After that, it's on them. They can't take months to settle up with you.

As for the landlord, Demand Letter, then Small Claims Court. And my advice is once you've filed the claim, call the court shows to see if they'll mediate the case. When you win THEY pay, so you have a good chance of getting your money.

Don't confuse the two issues. The landlord has NOTHING to do with the arrangements for the utilities.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:27 AM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

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