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Suing Landlords for Security Deposit Refund

I want to sue my landlord. Can you please help me with suing my landlord to recover my security deposit?

At Suing101, we get many inquiries asking how to sue to a landlord to get back a security deposit.

First things first. Make sure you understand whether you are entitled to a refund. A security deposit is a deposit of money to the landlord to ensure that rent will be paid and other responsibilities of the agreement will be performed. That includes leaving the apartment in decent shape, that is, in a condition that is at least as good as when you rented the apartment. If you rented your apartment and it was in pristine condition, and then you left the apartment dirty and in a shambles, well, you shouldn't expect your security deposit back, should you?

The key to understanding what you are entitled to is to know the laws for your area. Every state has its own unique set of security deposit laws, and some municipilaties and counties have their own laws.

Security deposit laws differ depending on where you live. In California, for example, the landlord has 21 days to send you a full refund of your security deposit, or hand or mail you an itemized statement that lists the amounts of deductions from your security deposit and the reasons for the deductions, together with a refund of any amounts not deducted. In Illinois, the landlord has 30 days to inform you that you will not be getting your full security deposit and must provide you with an itemized statement of the damages along with paid receipts. Any monies owed to you must be paid within 45 days of your moving out.

There are many other other aspects of security deposit law that vary from state to state. For example, in Illinois there is no legal limit on the amount your landlord can require as a security deposit. In Massachusetts, the security deposit cannot be greater than one month’s rent.

If you've researched the law for your area and feel you are owed all or part of your security deposit, small claims court is the best way to recover what the landlord owes you. The main benefits of small claims court are that it's fast and cheap.

You can sue your landlord to recover your security deposit. If a court finds that your landlord violated the security deposit law, he/she could be liable for damages in an amount equal to two times your security deposit, court costs, and attorney’s fees.

Before you sue a landlord, you should make a "demand" for the money. In many cases, the demand letter will get you your money back, without having to go to court. But, if you end up suing, you will show the demand letter to the judge, and it will explain your side of the dispute.

Suing you landlord in small claims court means filing a "Plaintiff's Claim" in the local courthouse and giving a copy to the landlord. Then, you both show up for the trial.

When you go to court, you should bring in your rental agreement and any additional evidence, such as pictures or receipts or a letter from a friend who helped you clean the apartment. It's good to have pictures of the apartment the day you moved in, and pictures the day you moved out. That can show if you left the apartment in decent condition. It's also good to prove that you gave the landlord proper notice that you were moving and some proof of your actual move date. That's because landlords sometimes deduct unpaid rent from your security deposit, and your last day of occupancy becomes a critical part of the judge's decision.

After you present your case, the landlord usually presents his view of things. The judge listens to both sides, asks questions, and then makes a decision. He may announce the decision then, or he may indicate that it will be mailed to you.

If you win the case, you will receive a judgment in your favor. The landlord must pay you the money, and the law gives you means to collect the money if the landlord does not pay up.


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