Apartmentfilter: Is my deposit gone?
June 16, 2006 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Recently I applied for an apartment and put down a $600 deposit. I was told $450 of the deposit was refundable. I didn't take the apartment, and they took all my money.

Due to some complications I decided it would be best not to take the apartment, for several reasons; including that it was carpeted, small, expensive, and they kept having to move my move-in date. The apartment was only held a week or so before I notified them. At which point they notified me it is company policy to keep all of the deposit if someone does not take an apartment. On my side I have the fact that I have not received copies of this information. They are sending my the legal forms now. So, what sort of legal recourse do I have under Washington Tenant law to get my money back.
posted by MonkNoiz to Law & Government (17 answers total)
See. A. Lawyer.
Small. Claims. Court.

There are so many variants of this question that have popped up on AskMe, yet no one seems to get that the above two are the ultimate result of those questions.
posted by Kickstart70 at 11:28 AM on June 16, 2006

I assume it's too late to stop payment on the check, which is what I did in this situation. I even paid them the $100 nonrefundable part.
posted by xueexueg at 11:29 AM on June 16, 2006

(IAAL, but I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice:) If you didn't see these "forms" you never agreed to them. Therefore, no contract. Instead, you made an oral contract based on what they told you about part of the deposit being refundable.

As for legal recourse, if you have to go that route, the answer is most definitely small claims court. If it's anything like it is in California, you'll pay a small filing fee, and get a court date by which both sides have to go to court.

If you can get this resolved without actually filing though, it's much less of a headache.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 11:41 AM on June 16, 2006

stop payment if you can; sue 'em if you can't.
posted by lester at 11:43 AM on June 16, 2006

It is too late to cancel the check, which was what I was going to do. The main concern I have is what kind of chances I have of getting the money back at this point. I suppose I can consult a lawyer and determine what action I can take. Does anyone know of a good way to get llegal advice in Olympia, Washington for very little to no money?
posted by MonkNoiz at 11:48 AM on June 16, 2006

What kingjoescmoe said. Forget getting a lawyer. It's a waste of his/her time and your money. Just goto small claims.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 11:59 AM on June 16, 2006

Contact your local state attorney general's office and ask to speak with the consumer protection department. That office might be able to help you; if not, they'll point you to the state office that can.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 12:00 PM on June 16, 2006

Small claims court.. absolutely.
posted by rolypolyman at 12:05 PM on June 16, 2006

What on earth is the point of a refundable deposit?
posted by mendel at 12:10 PM on June 16, 2006

You could also write a very concise, business-like letter to them demanding your money back, and outline why you deserve it (they pushed the date back, you did not sign the forms, etc.).

Cc your local BBB, Tenants' Rights association, and State Attorney General's office.

In the letter, mention a date by which you expect to receive the funds; state that you intend to file official complaints with the Atty Gen. and pursue a small claims case if you don't receive your money by that date.

It might work and it's a lot easier. If it doesn't work, then follow up with the court case. Plus, then you have evidence that you made a good faith effort to get your money without suing and they refused to cooperate. Send the letter with confirmation of delivery, signature required, or whatever.

This tactic has worked for me several times. Email me for details if you want.
posted by peep at 12:17 PM on June 16, 2006 [2 favorites]

What on earth is the point of a refundable deposit?
posted by mendel at 3:10 PM EST

If the landlord (after credit check most likely) decides they don't want you as a tenant after all, they refund the deposit.
posted by malphigian at 12:37 PM on June 16, 2006

Wow. So many of this exact same question on AskMe.

The first thing you always need to do is check your state attorney general's website for what the law actually is.

In your case, that's Here.

The second thing you should do is write them a letter stating precisely how they screwed up, and giving them an opportunity to back out. Keep a copy of this letter. Send it certified mail with a return receipt.

If they don't cough, then you should go down to the county courthouse and file a small claims suit against them. There's usually a fee, like $20, for court costs. You'll need the research from the Attorney General's website to state what laws they broke and how much you can claim. Your claim can in some cases include court costs. You'll need a copy of the check you wrote them and any paperwork they gave you. You'll be assigned a court date.

If they don't show up, then the court will recover your money for you and mail you a check. If they do show up, then the judge will read them the riot act and will make them either cut you a check or otherwise will get your money for you if you have done your homework properly.
posted by SpecialK at 1:00 PM on June 16, 2006

I suspect mendel may be right; your deposit is what you give a potential landlord to protect them from the hassle of somebody doing precisely what you have just done.

Now, if the reason you changed your mind is that the landlord kept changing the move-in date, thereby making unavailable the thing you'd put down the deposit on (i.e. apartment X on such-and-such a date) - maybe you have a case that they didn't hold up their end of the bargain. But if you just changed your mind, why would you be able to get your money back? Isn't that what a deposit is for?

I was in this exact situation once, and at the time I simply accepted it as true that surrendering my deposit was the price I paid for the privilege of changing my mind.

Or am I missing something here?
posted by catesbie at 1:55 PM on June 16, 2006

catesbie: under washington law what you are describing is called a holding fee... which there was no mention of at any point... a deposit is refundable...
posted by MonkNoiz at 2:23 PM on June 16, 2006

Thanks peep and SpecialK! I beleive I have a good idea of how to pursue this now.
posted by MonkNoiz at 2:25 PM on June 16, 2006

wrote polite concise letters...

no answer...

waited appropriate number of days...

wrote strongly-worded lawsuit-threatening letter...

got all my money back...
posted by MonkNoiz at 11:30 PM on November 5, 2006

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