Landlord and tenant disputes about security deposits are very common. If you believe that your landlord unfairly withheld deposit money for cleaning, repairs, or back rent or failed to return your security deposit at all, one major option you may have to consider is to sue them in small claims court. Read on to learn what you should do if your landlord doesn't return your security deposit.
California establishes certain rules that landlords must follow when it comes to returning and deducting any money from a tenant's security deposit. After the tenancy is terminated, a landlord has 21 days to return the tenant's security deposit in full or explain an accounting of any deductions.
If the deadline has passed, you will want to make a request for your deposit under any of these circumstances:
Your request should be written in the form of a "demand letter" and serves many purposes: It gives your landlord your forwarding address (even if you're already done it when you gave notice), it's a chance to build your case for a lawsuit, and it can help you get punitive damages from your landlord because they didn't comply with the security deposit law.
For your demand letter, you should include the following:
If your landlord doesn't respond, then you can mediate (with the help of a third party) or begin a lawsuit immediately. Fortunately, the small claims lawsuit is fairly inexpensive. Here are the next steps you will take if you take your landlord to court:
If your landlord files a lawsuit against you first for money claiming that you damaged the property beyond "wear and tear," you can take the steps to file a counterclaim for wrongfully withholding a security deposit.
It's frustrating when you don't get your security deposit returned to you. However, before you sue your landlord, you might want to consider talking it over with an experienced tenants' rights attorney.
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