Roommate vs roommate security deposit: strong small claims case?
February 1, 2007 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Mass. SecurityDepositSmallClaimsFilter: Buddy's ex-roommate withholding security deposit for no good reason, what should he do?

This takes place in Boston, if that matters. He paid roommate $700 security deposit. Roommate in turn paid the landlord. He signed on to the lease under the landlord. At the end of the lease, roommate was angry at him for 'not really living there' -- she was returned the full amount of the security deposit. She was angry, so he offered her $50 and asked for a check for $650. She responded by offering him $450 because the money was legally hers to do with as she pleases, and anything he gets back is a gift.

So, he has a lease with their names on it, and a canceled check to her with "security deposit" in the memo dated a week before his move-in.

Under MA law, does he have a strong small claims case? How would he go about telling her he is prepared to sue without sounding threatening or should he not contact her and just file the suit?

I've looked at the appropriate Mass. laws about security deposits, but didn't see very much that would apply to this situation. Also, I had difficulty finding previous questions that weren't tenant vs landlord instead of tenant vs tenant.

Obligatory HHCAL: He Has Consulted a Lawyer, but we'd like to hear anecdotal experience.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto to Law & Government (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
my legal knowledge comes from california and i haven't seen any of the relevant documents, but...
defining the relationships is important. is your friend a cotenant or a subtenant? "he signed on to the lease under the landlord" sounds like a cotenant, in which case the lease may have required the security deposit to be refunded to both cotenants (a check payable to cotenant "a" and cotenant "b", requiring both their endorsements for negotiation, and given to them by the landlord to fight over)).
small claims court is a place where practical equities frequently trump legal shibboleths, and practically speaking, your friend is owed $700, so there is no doubt he should sue the ex-roommate. i would go with no letters or upfront blather, just file it and get it to the sheriff for service, git-r-rolling.
posted by bruce at 10:57 AM on February 1, 2007

They had a verbal agreement, and he has a check marked "Security Deposit" which she cashed.

IANAL, but it sounds like a pretty simple small claims case. If he doesn't have anything in writing, he needs to start gathering things. Emails, emails, emails. Have him write to her about the matter, just to get her to talk about it. Chances are if you give her enough rope, she'll hang herself by saying something to help his case.

Ultimately the key is to get her to cough up BEFORE they go to court. Because (depending on the state) even if the judge finds in his favor, it is up to the plaintiff to get her to pay via collection agencies etc-- so she can still hold out on it, and make it expensive for everyone involved.

If he makes it clear it's worth taking her to court over and she still won't pay him, I'd say he's got little to worry about.
posted by hermitosis at 11:20 AM on February 1, 2007

You may have already checked this out, but have you talked to SCAS? They may be able to help.

As a former SCAS volunteer, although not a very active or well-informed one, I agree with hermitosis.
posted by phoenixy at 11:37 AM on February 1, 2007

Best answer: I think your friend roomed with a former roommate of mine. She didn't withhold my security deposit but she was so angry that I wasn't there very much. Sheesh, I would love to have a roommate who was out all the time - you get a big apartment to yourself, pretty much.

If the lease is under both their names, it's my understanding that they are both equally and seperately responsible for the rent & any other financial stuff. Your friend's security deposit eventually went to the landlord, albeit through his ex-roomie, so I don't understand how she can claim that it's "hers." The landlord should be the one giving your friend back the security deposit. Even if he just gave the ex-roomie a check for the entire deposit (not split into two checks) I still don't understand her argument that it's her money. If he paid into the security deposit and the landlord didn't take any out (i.e. for damages or anything) then your friend should get his $700 back.

I think your friend should threaten to sue, and then actually sue in small claims court if she doesn't pony up. Maybe the threat would be enough to make her pay.
posted by sutel at 11:39 AM on February 1, 2007

"it's my understanding...*"

meant to add: "in Massachusetts, where I also live"
posted by sutel at 11:40 AM on February 1, 2007

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