Should I take my landlord to court?
October 31, 2007 6:54 AM   Subscribe

Landlord took 60 days to return security deposit (the max is 45 days), there has been no interest added to it, and she's taken a healthy chunk of money out for "repairs." This is in Chicago. Should I take her to court?

Most of the repairs are bogus, and they're all conveniently rounded off to multiples of $25. The bit of research I've done says that since she took longer than 45 days to return it, and there has been no interest added to it, I may be entitled to a return of double the security deposit (which was two months rent in the first place). Do I have a case? Is it worth it? How would I go about doing it? Should I just threaten legal action to get the full deposit back? Should I hold off on depositing the check before I take action?
posted by buriednexttoyou to Law & Government (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. Even threatening a lawsuit is good enough to provoke repayment in some landlords.
posted by cloeburner at 7:02 AM on October 31, 2007

According to this guide to Chicago Tenants' Rights:
"If your landlord takes money from your security deposit for repairs, then within 30 days from the time you move the landlord must send you a written list of the damage you are being charged for, and a copy of paid bills or estimates for the repairs of damage you caused. If you do not hear from the landlord within 30 days after you move, your landlord may not deduct money from your security deposit for damages. Your landlord may automatically deduct any unpaid rent from your security deposit without notification. To protect yourself, you should give your landlord your new address as soon as possible so that the landlord knows where to send your deposit.

If your landlord sends estimated costs of repairs with the list of damages, within 30 days of this notice you must be sent the paid receipts or proof of the actual costs of repair. Regardless of why money is being deducted from your security deposit, the remainder of your deposit must still be returned to you within 45 days after you move out."
Since your landlord took 60 days to return your deposit, she may not deduct anything from it. Plus, you're entitled to 5% interest since she's had it.
posted by justkevin at 7:07 AM on October 31, 2007 [2 favorites]

Absolutely. Write a polite but firm letter, and if there is no response take her to small claims court.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:08 AM on October 31, 2007

I can't comment as to your chances of success, but I'd suggest guestimating the amount of time of yours it will consume, and asking if the hourly return is worth it. For an extra two monthrs rent it just might be.

Obviously there's more to these things than straight economics--vindication and the self-respect of not letting yourself get hosed have value--but it's always been a useful exercise to me. Keeps me from bitching that the grocery store shafted me $0.20, for example.
posted by stevis23 at 7:13 AM on October 31, 2007

If you have a friend or a friend of a friend who is a real estate attorney, just having the legal letterhead can make a difference. This happened to me in Manhattan years ago and I was fortunate enough to have a college friend who practiced real estate law in the city. After a couple of fruitless weeks of me trying nicely get my deposit back, my attorney friend wrote a brief but firm note (I offered to pay but he declined) and the money showed up within days. You obviously have to do the math on how much you are willing to invest in legal expenses but if you can get a favor or something close, it might help.
posted by cyclopz at 7:24 AM on October 31, 2007

...and she may think twice about shafting the next tenant, should you call her on it.
posted by Savannah at 7:24 AM on October 31, 2007

I was in the same situation in Massachusetts two years ago - I got the security deposit back a month or two later without interest and less $200 for repairs. Massachusetts is a very tenant-friendly state; they allow you to sue for triple the entire security deposit if it is returned without interest or if deductions aren't itemized within 30 days.

I sent a letter to the landlord quoting the applicable law and telling them I would go to court if they didn't send the $200 and interest over four years of tenancy. He left a screaming voicemail. I waited. He paid.

I think you have a case and that yes, it is worth it, for the money, the experience, and the satisfaction. Good luck.
posted by Mapes at 7:29 AM on October 31, 2007

Oh for fucks-sakes please go after them. There is just no excuse for landlords being such shitty, dishonest people.

It'll take a little leg work on your part:

1. Right now while you're thinking it, collect up your old lease and start a file on this whole mess. You want to create a time line documenting when your lease terminated and when you received the deposit. Hold on to any post-marked envelops and stuff like that.

2. Type up a polite, but stern letter, quote the applicable passages from the Tenet's Rights (which justkevin has kindly linked to) and send it certified mail. Be sure to calculate in the letter what he/she owes you (with interest) and supply an address (hell, I'd even include a SASE.)

3. Call your landlord and tell him/her that you've sent a letter requesting a correction on the deposit because they have taken too long in returning your money. Don't make any verbal agreement or anything like that over the phone. Instead say, "From here on out, given the amount of money you owe me, I'd rather do everything in writing for 'legal reasons'" - that'll get'em thinking. Don't let him weasel out of anything - make him put it in writing.

4. Document when you send the letter and when you get the received notice. Wait ten business days and send a second one. Document that as well.

5. If you don't receive a reply then take the rat-fucked bastards to small claims court. You'll have more than enough documentation to get your money back.

Remember: this person is trying to *steal* from you! Don't let them!

Good luck!
posted by wfrgms at 7:34 AM on October 31, 2007 [4 favorites]

I asked a similiar question last year. My situation sounds almost exactly like yours - landlords didn't return the deposit in time and when they did, they deducted some repairs and didn't give us any interest.

Write them a letter, see what they do. If you don't get the full amount + interest back, take them to small claims court. As long as you have proper documentation, you should be fine.

Don't expect to get double the security deposit back.

If you really need the cash, you should be able to deposit the check and still take them to court.
posted by Diskeater at 7:41 AM on October 31, 2007

I agree that often just showing that you know your rights and are willing to fight is enough to get your money back.

You need to make sure that your landlord is covered by the normal Chicago housing code. If your building is very small and/or owner occupied, she might not be. Either of the websites below will tell you which buildings are covered.

The Illinois Tenants Union might be able to help you. The thing is, it costs half a month's rent to join, and you may end up paying them more money than you get back.

There's also the Metropolitan Tenants Organization. They have a hotline that you can call and ask questions about things like whether you should cash the check and how you should proceed. Years ago, I got really good help from them when my landlord refused to make a needed repair. They xeroxed and sent me the portion of the housing code that he was violating, and I sent it to him with a letter saying that I knew he was violating the law, that I had legal representation, and that if he didn't fix it within a week I would sue him. He fixed the thing the next day.

The MTO is a non-profit and they largely serve poor people, so if they help you resolve your problem and you have some money to spare, you should toss a donation their way.
posted by craichead at 7:42 AM on October 31, 2007

Stick it to her! The law here in Chicago is pretty straightforward.

I wish I had done something about it when my first landlord here (T&A Mgmt) tried to rip me off but I didn't know then what I know now.

Actually, my more recent landlords have been extremely quick to follow the law so that makes me think that it IS being enforced and if you write this woman a letter, it'll scare her into doing the right thing.
posted by Jess the Mess at 7:43 AM on October 31, 2007

Another important piece of advice: don't cash the check. Cashing the check could be interpreted in court as you accepting that the transaction is finished. IANAL, but I was advised this by the tenant union in my city.
You might want to check out the Chicago tenant union; their website is They have resources that could be helpful to your situation.
posted by k8lin at 7:44 AM on October 31, 2007

Is the situation different in Chicago than in New York? I've been told that in NYC having been party to a housing court action, even when victorious can make it harder to rent again as landlords don't want litigious tenants. Fair? No. But another point to consider if the dollar amount is small (say under $200). Though perhaps in Chicago things arer different and/or I am misinformed about the situation in NYC.
posted by Jahaza at 8:26 AM on October 31, 2007

I live in Chicago and had this exact problem two years ago. justkevin is absolutely right - she owed you an itemized list, in writing, of all repair deductions within 30 days of your lease ending. And regardless, the deposit should have been returned within 45 days.

Because she didn't, your landlord is in breach of section 5-12-080 of the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance, and you are entitled to recover additional damages from her if you choose:
(f) If the landlord or landlord's agent fails to comply with any provision of Section 5-12-080 (a) - (e), the tenant shall be awarded damages in an amount equal to two times the security deposit plus interest at a rate determined in accordance with Section 5-12-081 (Amended February 7, 1997) This subsection does not preclude the tenant from recovering other damages to which he may be entitled under this chapter. (Prior code ยง193.1-8; Added. Council Journal of Proceedings, September 8, 1986, page 33771)
It's too easy for landlords to abuse the rights of uninformed tenants, and no city wants to be viewed as encouraging slumlord behavior, so Chicago courts are very strict about these regulations.

I would recommend first just sending her a note informing her of her obligations under this ordinance; it may just be that she is ignorant of Chicago landlord law. In my case, that is all it took to get my security deposit back. If she resists (or if you feel she is maliciously trying to screw you), don't hesitate to file in small claims. You will win.
posted by chundo at 8:46 AM on October 31, 2007

Been there, done that--the judge in our case pretty much ignored the law, and made a judgement based on what he felt was more-or-less fair. We "won," but we didn't get any doubling of the deposit, or interest, or any of that other stuff to which we were clearly entitled. Straightforward law or no, you have to weigh the cost v. benefit of taking it to court.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:41 AM on October 31, 2007

Was in a similar situation not too long ago. Was able to get (most) of my money back by doing this
posted by The Gooch at 9:55 AM on October 31, 2007

Absolutely. Write a polite but firm letter, and if there is no response take her to small claims court.

It should go without saying - but won't - that you should send all your mail to her via certified mail, return receipt requested.
posted by phearlez at 10:16 AM on October 31, 2007

Not a single person I have ever known in Chicago, including myself, has received interest on the deposit. I was even told I would receive it but never did. It does not happen in my experience.
posted by agregoli at 2:44 PM on October 31, 2007

Not a single person I have ever known in Chicago, including myself, has received interest on the deposit. I was even told I would receive it but never did. It does not happen in my experience.

Every landlord I've had in Chicago (except that most recent) has returned my security deposit with interest.
posted by chundo at 9:27 AM on November 1, 2007

The letter worked! We scared 'em into returning the rest of the deposit, no need to go to court or anything. Thanks, AskMe!
posted by buriednexttoyou at 11:33 PM on December 1, 2007

Interesting data point, chundo. Proves that it's a very uneven practice, at least.
posted by agregoli at 7:27 AM on December 3, 2007

I've mostly been in larger buildings too, so the management companies probably had lawyers telling them what they need to do. I could see smaller landlords being oblivious or willfully ignorant of that statute though.
posted by chundo at 12:08 PM on December 10, 2007

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