Do I have this small claims case in the bag? Or not?
May 5, 2014 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Do I have this small claims case in the bag? Or not? I lived in an apt with roommates. The original people on the lease all moved out except for one... and all the other people that moved in with that one person thereafter were roommates who gave security deposits NOT to the building, but to the roommates LEAVING the apt. Here's how it would work. Whenever person A wanted to leave the apt they would get their security deposit returned when person B MOVED into the apt and gave THEIR security deposit to the person moving out. So whatever damages might have occured during a roommate's stay the person responsible would still be the original roommates that inhabited the apt because it was their checks the building was holding as a security deposit.

When I moved out I was promised by my roommate "dave" that I would get my security deposit back from the roommate that was moving in to take my place. But when it came time for them to move in, "dave" not only denied me access to see the new roommate, he also claimed that I owed money for damages so I wouldn't be getting back my deposit. When I asked what he was talking about he wouldn't be clear as to what those damages were. So I said- "This is too confusing. I'll just go to the building's management and ask them about it." To which dave replies "Well they didn't do the repairs I did. You see, the damage you did was quoted to cost way more than your security deposit so as a FAVOR to you I did all the work myself with help from our other roommate. Except for the cleaning lady. Your room was so disgusting that we needed to hire a professional. We did all that for you as a favor so that you wouldn't have to lose more than your security deposit." Um... right. So long story short I went to management and asked them about these damages and they didn't know what I was talking about. I asked them to put it on company letterhead for me that they did NOT charge me for damages nor did they do any inspection of my room and they gladly obliged.

So here's what I definitely CAN bring to court:

1.- The letter from management mentioned above.

2.- A very old, stained and ratty piece of paper with only one sentence on it saying that I gave a certain amount as a security deposit to dave. He signed it. (I can't remember if I paid the deposit by certified check or money order or cash. This is the only proof I have that I paid it and I hope it's enough.)

3- Photographs of what the room looked like when I first moved in. As well as photos taken when I moved out. (I can prove the place looked cleaner when I moved out of it than how it was when I moved in- debunking their needing a cleaning lady theory).

Is this enough for me to win? Do I need something more? Since he did this with the help of our other roommate and her boyfriend I'm suing both those roommates. Meaning there will likely be 3 people on the defendant side and just me with my evidence on the other side.
posted by manderin to Law & Government (16 answers total)
Look, if you want a real analysis here, you'll need to consult a local attorney. No two ways about it. These things depend as much on local practice as anything else.
posted by valkyryn at 1:35 PM on May 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Ok, So how do I consult a local attorney on a small claims issue? Like how does one even find an attorney to ask about a small claims thing?
posted by manderin at 1:43 PM on May 5, 2014

IANAL, IANYL. but yea, you can do it. This guy's a dick, and if you get anyone like Judge Judy they should see right through his web of lies.
posted by Gungho at 1:54 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Short answer: Google "[your city] small claims lawyer" or just wait for one of the dozens of NYC lawyer mefites to answer this question.
posted by Wretch729 at 1:57 PM on May 5, 2014

You don't consult an attorney.

What you have should be enough. Now, getting Dave to pony up...that's a whole other issue.

Go, present your case, and see what happens. Chances are, what Dave owes you is less than what a lawyer would charge you.

The whole point of small claims is that you represent yourself. Go, dress nicely, act nicely and don't go into a whole lot of rigamorole. Be your believable, honest self. The more you talk, the guiltier you sound. Dave will talk a blue streak and sound guilty as hell.

State your case, "I gave Dave a deposit of $$, I moved out. Here are my photos (helps if they're dated) and I didn't get a formal tally of what was deducted for damages, nor did I received my deposit back."

Do you have a lease? You might want to get that. Check your statues, technically Dave was your landlord and he has a responsibility to provide you with an itemization of repairs (he'll need to provide reciepts for materials or for the actual repair to prove his side). Connecticuit allows for double damages. See if your jurisdiction does as well.

Have fun. Court is a hoot!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:57 PM on May 5, 2014 [9 favorites]

Assuming your location is current: Curbed NY: How to find a tenants' rights lawyer (includes info on free Attorney assistance from the NYC Housing Court, among other resources).
posted by The Michael The at 1:58 PM on May 5, 2014

This is too small for a lawyer, and it would be a waste of time and money to hire a lawyer. Just go to small claims, it's designed for cases too small for hiring a lawyer. I think you have a good shot.
posted by ill3 at 2:01 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you should only sue Dave, not the other two, because collecting from one person is hard enough. Collecting from three? OOF!!

That said.

Have you sent Dave and your roommates a letter demanding the full return of your deposit? Certified and return receipt mail? DO THIS NOW.

I would not detail the evidence you have in your letter, but you MUST send a demand letter specifying the full amount and the date it needs to be returned by.

They'll understand the next step is court. Either they cough up the money on time, or you figure out who and how many of them to sue.

You might also send this demand letter to your former landlord and consider naming them in small claims, too.

They should have been following the lease and taking/disbursing deposits appropriately.

Ditto the original folks on the lease.

I would bring SERIOUS light to this issue by sending these certified demand letters ASAP and cc'ing all involved parties.

I pretty much guarantee that before you even have to file in small claims, your deposit will be returned.

You're welcome:))
posted by jbenben at 2:33 PM on May 5, 2014

Assuming your location is current: Curbed NY: How to find a tenants' rights lawyer (includes info on free Attorney assistance from the NYC Housing Court, among other resources).

Just a heads-up: the landlord doesn't seem to be involved in this matter at all and the housing court (for landlord/tenant cases) and the small claims court are two distinct courts in NYC.
posted by griphus at 2:35 PM on May 5, 2014

"I pretty much guarantee that before you even have to file in small claims, your deposit will be returned."

I wouldn't be so sure. "dave" has a mental illness you see which he takes heavy medication for. And money is something he hordes to an extent that doesn't seem normal to most people. He will argue with someone for hours over a measly few dollars. I really should've known better than to trust him, but I was in the hospital a lot during that time so I needed to depend on him for things I wouldn't have otherwise trusted him with and I honestly didn't think he'd go so far as steal an entire person's security deposit. In any case, knowing how he is I think it's more likely that if he's tipped off that he's about to get sued he'll make a mess of the room a bit and take pictures of it to prepare for the case, lie and claim the pictures were taken during my move out (he still has access to the apartment). But I never had access to the apt once I moved out, so I'm confident that my pictures will be seen as the real ones if he does this. I would expect this before expecting him to fold on the money.
posted by manderin at 2:49 PM on May 5, 2014

In my experience judges have pretty good bullshit detectors. Of course, there is always the exception. If this guy is a little nuts, in a way where he would try to fake pictures, that will likely improve your chances rather than harm them.
posted by ill3 at 2:55 PM on May 5, 2014

Dave will know you are suing him because you will have to serve him court summons. Your logic about messing up the room and taking pics doesn't quite make sense, even if Dave were savvy enough to change the time stamp.

If Dave is mentally ill, what good is court? Bad credit and a judgement won't bother him.

You really need to do the demand letter, a judge will look for that.


I think sending a demand letter to everyone potentially involved is the only way to create enough pressure to get Dave to pay up.

There is a reason these procedures exist. They work, they establish a paper trail you can use in court.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 3:01 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

"If Dave is mentally ill, what good is court? Bad credit and a judgement won't bother him."

It will bother him a great deal. Anything in regards to money bothers him a great deal. I'll do that then. I'll send a letter saying they need to pay up within 30 days and if they don't I'll send them a summons.
posted by manderin at 3:23 PM on May 5, 2014

Likely he needed to return your security deposit under 30 days, as per the law in your jurisdiction. There are automatic damages for not returning the security deposit on time.

Look. It's clear you don't really "get" this and haven't done the footwork on your own to even understand how security deposits in your jurisdiction work.

That's OK. But get to googling.

1. Read the .gov website for your area that explains the rules for deposits, including damages and how to collect.

2. Contact a tenants rights org in your area, or a few. Get them to help you write the demand letter. Ask them to explain to you exactly what you are asking for and why.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 4:41 PM on May 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just adding that you really should look through your old bank statement for proof that those funds came out of your account. You say you don't remember if you paid by check, just look it up- it really can't hurt.
posted by katypickle at 6:07 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm an attorney. I'm in and out of my jurisdiction's equivalent of small claims all the time.
posted by valkyryn at 6:25 PM on May 5, 2014

« Older My back hurts.   |   Laptop Blues. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.