Is there a way to force landlords to respond to you about why they are not returning deposits

Rental deposit reimbursement

Recently on our forum we had a user ask, "Is there a legal way to get my security deposit back from my landlord if he refuses to give it to me?"

A landlord commonly requires tenants to pay a security deposit, which could be as much as a month's rent, to protect them in case the tenant either leaves the property early or damages the property. When a tenant vacates the property they may be entitled to a full or partial refund or the landlord may be legally allowed to keep all of the money.

When can the landlord keep your deposit?

Landlords may keep your deposit to compensate them for:

  • Unpaid rent if the tenant vacates the property before the end of the contractual lease period
  • Unpaid bills, including utility bills
  • Cleaning costs for the apartment or home
  • To repair all damage to the property beyond normal wear and tear. For instance, if you knock holes in the walls or steal appliances the deposit is used to make repairs or buy replacements.

Consider, however, unless your landlord can prove they have had to repair the property or you have broken a rental contract, your deposit is considered refundable. Landlords should also be able to provide you with information, such as receipts or repair estimates, to document how your deposit was spent.

What do I do if my landlord will not return my deposit?

First, before you move out you need to complete a full inspection of the property and document all furniture, appliances and damage. The landlord should accompany you during the inspection, but even if they will not, you can gather your own evidence to prove everything is in working order and there is no substantial damage to the property.

The good news is in forty-seven states (excluding Louisiana, North Carolina, and West Virginia) it is illegal for a landlord to keep your deposit without an explanation. In all forty-seven states your landlord is required by law to give you written information about your security deposit.

Although state laws vary, generally the landlord must mail you the following information:

  1. An itemized statement about how the money was spent.
  2. How much of the deposit is remaining.

If you have not heard from your landlord within two to three weeks after you have moved out you need to try to contact them. If you are unable to reach them, they have not sent you information about how your deposit was spent, and they are refusing to return any of your money, it is time to write a demand letter.

The demand letter should outline the facts of your case, including the amount of money you believe you are owed and when the money should be sent to you. Make sure to include copies of any agreements you have signed to support your case, such as your lease agreement and your notice to move out. Make it clear that you understand your rights by listing any state security deposit laws which are applicable. Let them know if you do not receive your money they will be sued in small claims court.

Filing suit in small claims court

If the landlord fails to respond you may be able to sue them in small claims court. It is relative inexpensive to sue in small claims court, and you do not need a lawyer. The amount you can recover, however, varies by state, although it is generally anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000.

Make sure you have the right evidence to win your case, including your notice of intent to move out, photos of the rental unit and the demand letter you sent to the owner.

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