Rental Agreement and Your Tenant Rights – How To Get Your Security Deposit Back (Part 1)

Don’t let someone keep what’s rightfully and legally yours.

While rental agreement’s and tenant rights is a fairly broad topic, this post will focus solely on how to go about getting your security deposit back in the event that the landlord is being sketchy and trying to keep it without just cause.

I like to think of this post as a case study as it is inspired by a friend who is currently dealing with a landlord who is trying to keep her security deposit for no other reason than to bank a few extra bucks. That scoundrel!

One of the many things my job entails is the management of over a dozen rental properties. Over the past four years I’ve obtained a firm understanding of both the landlord/management side as well as the tenants side in dealing with the various moving parts involved in renting property.  That being said lets get to the facts of this case study and look at some of the mistakes that were made and what you should do if your in a similar situation.

The facts:

  1. My friend whom we’ll call “Lucy” found a room for rent on Craigslist. After verifying the landlords identity, that he actually owned the property, and speaking with other tenants living in the house, she negotiated a monthly rate of $350 with a $200 security deposit.
  2. They executed a lease on a month to month basis on 9-1-2016. She paid her first months rent along with her security deposit on the same day.
  3. The lease stipulated that there were no early termination fees, nor requirement for 30 days notice prior to vacating.
  4. Due to safety concerns and privacy issues (someone was going into her room when she wasn’t there) 14 days later on 9-14-16 she exercised her option to terminate the lease and promptly removed all of her belongings that same day. She took a slow high quality 360 degree video of the room to show it was left in the state she found it in.
  5. The same day she texted the landlord notifying him of her termination of the lease and requested her security deposit back. The landlord confirmed she had vacated and promised to return her security deposit on the 10-1-16.
  6. On 10-1-16 Lucy followed up and requested to meet up to get back her security deposit. The landlord asked for an extension until 10-14-16. The 14th came and passed and he continued to delay and this back and forth went on until 11-15-16 some 63 days after she officially moved out.

Now at this point it’s very tempting to try to figure out the landlords thought process in keeping the security deposit without any reasonable cause or justification but that won’t help get the money back. We’ve established a timeline and the sequence of events that took place, now lets look at what mistakes were made and what course of action to take.

Mistakes:

  1. Communicating with the landlord via text message. This can be a good way to communicate with a good responsive and proactive landlord about maintenance, letting them know you dropped off the rent, and other day to day occurrences etc. However, texting typically (depending on the state you live in and other factors) has no legal bases. In fact most leases have a stipulation that the tenant must provide written notice of there intention to terminate the lease and request there security deposit back. In this case, written means a typed or hand written letter giving notice of termination and requesting there security deposit back.
  2. Not providing a forwarding address. Another issue is the lack of a forwarding address. In the case of Lucy, she tried repeatedly to meet up or stop by to get her deposit back. The landlord continued delaying. By not providing a forwarding address as required by law, the landlord is not under any obligation to meet up with you or let you stop by.
  3. Not taking action. Obviously having written a notice that you were terminating your lease and requesting your deposit back the day you move out is the optimal course of action. Either tape it to the front door and take a picture or mail it via certified mail return receipt (the latter being the most optimal). In this case waiting until November first was a courtesy but as soon as the landlord delayed a second time she should have written a formal letter requesting her security deposit back.

As I mentioned the back and forth between landlord and tenant continued for 63 days until the landlord stopped responding. At this point Lucy is fed up and just wants to forget about the whole thing. This is probably what the landlord wanted all along but I convinced Lucy, that based on principal she should take the correct actions and follow through on getting her deposit back.

Why? Because he probably is going to continue doing this until someone stands up to him. If your dealing with a similar situation chances are your landlord has gotten away with this exact same thing. It’s illegal and shouldn’t be tolerated. Don’t let someone take whats legally and rightfully yours!

With a little encouragement and some help Lucy decided to continue her efforts, this time with a game plan that is supported by law. Time to take action!

Very quickly we drafted the following letter (names have been omitted for privacy reasons) :

11-15-16

Name of Landlord

Landlord’s address

RE: Return of Lucy’s Security Deposit

Dear Landlord,

As you’re aware, I began leasing a bedroom from you on 9-1-2016. Per our lease agreement I put down a security deposit and paid my first month’s rent. I was on a month to month lease. For safety and security reasons, I exercised my option to terminate the lease on 9-14-16. I removed all of my belongings on the same day and I made you aware of this via text message. I requested my security deposit back via text message on 9-14-16. You confirmed this and told me you would give me back the deposit on 10-1-16. You have delayed returning my deposit now three separate times. Per Texas law you have 30 days to return a security deposit from the time a tenant moves out. It is now 63 days since I have moved out. This is a final written request to return the $200 security deposit I put down when I signed the lease.  Please return the security deposit no later than 12-16-2016. Please return my deposit via check or money order and mail to “Lucy’s forwarding address”. Please let the above address serve as my forwarding address.

I have tried to work with you for over two months now to solve this problem in a respectful and timely manner. However, if I have not received my security deposit back by 12-16-2016 I will be forced to take legal action to recover my deposit plus applicable legal fees.

Respectfully,

Lucy ****

Everything in the letter is true and factual and can be supported by screenshots of there text conversation. In the letter she gives her landlord 30 days to return her deposit, provides a forwarding address, and sent the letter postmarked on the same day. As I mentioned above sending the letter via USPS Certified Mail Return receipt is your best option. Having a signed receipt showing they received the letter can be a valuable piece of evidence if you have to take your landlord to court. Taping a copy of the letter to your landlords front door and taking a picture is also likely to get there attention and provide proof they received the letter although this might be a bit excessive depending on the circumstances. Use good judgment.

It took about ten minutes to draft the letter stuff it in an envelope and drop it in the mail.

Having established a paper trail and following all the requirements set forth by state laws (you can find out more about state specific landlord / tenant laws here) there is nothing left to do but wait.

If you’ve read this far your probably wondering what happens next. I will be writing a follow up on this case study in due course. Until than, feel free to leave a comment below and let me know what you think. Have you ever been in a similar situation, or perhaps you have a method already in place for making sure you don’t have to go through this process. Let me know!

 

 

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