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Suing the Landlord and Winning

Suing the Landlord and Winning
If you’re a tenant, it’s worth the time to brush up on applicable laws in your area so your landlord doesn’t take advantage of you. Here’s a story that makes my point.

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Being a tenant has it’s perks: no property taxes, someone else has to pay to fix things, no mortgage. That being said, being a renter/tenant sucks because you have to deal with landlords. Many landlords don’t actually know their job and don’t care to be knowledgeable about tenant rights and landlord obligations. 

If you’re a tenant, it’s worth the time to brush up on applicable laws in your area so your landlord doesn’t take advantage of you. Here’s a story that makes my point.

Story via Reddit.

Brief backstory: A couple years ago, I was in an apartment with my friend and younger sister. My sister was violent towards my friend and I, and I ended up having to get a restraining order against her. She brought in a dog without permission, which caused some damage to the unit. I informed my landlord of the incidences of violence and the damage and sent him pictures. He basically told me to deal with it myself, which I did by getting the protective order. After this, my roommate questioned the legality of holding us responsible for her portion of rent (I told her it was, but she asked our landlord for a copy of the lease to show her uncle anyway, which admittedly was pretty stupid). Up until this point, our landlord had not asked us to leave due to my sister’s actions, but he did after the lease was brought into it. We were out by the date he specified on the notice to quit (the first step in the eviction process before the eviction actually occurs). My roommate was there until midnight making sure the place was spotless.

We moved to an apartment across the street. Two weeks had passed since he was informed that we had vacated the unit, and we had not gotten anything regarding our security deposit. In our state, a landlord is required by law to either return the remainder of a security deposit within two weeks, or provide a letter itemizing what the deposit was used for. If they don’t, the tenant is owed the entire deposit. If the withholding is willful, the tenant is owed double the original deposit. The landlord had actually told me that he would be going on vacation immediately after we vacated, so I returned our keys to him and waited to see if he would send anything. He never did. After consulting with a tenant’s rights group to be sure I was in the right, I sent a pre-formatted letter 16 days after we vacated, which stated the specific laws regarding security deposits, and gave him our current address to send either the deposit or receipt to.

The day after I sent this letter, I see him across the street, frantically running into the apartment for the first time since we moved out. I receive a text from him saying that he would return what’s left of our deposit “if he could get the apartment rented by the first of next month.” I respond by telling him that, as the letter I sent explained, he forfeits the right to keep any of the deposit after the two weeks is up. He responded saying that he would “see us in court” and that we were “nightmare tenants,” and that “this will be fun.” He said he would also be taking us to court for the costs to re-list and rent the apartment, which he claimed exceeded the amount of our deposit.

After about a month or two of hearing nothing back, we decided to say “fuck it” and file a small claims suit against him, as he clearly wasn’t going to follow through on his threats. As the person who had almost all communication with him, I was the plaintiff in the case. He brought a “letter” that was dated for the day he texted me, where he arbitrarily wrote in what he used the deposit on, and claimed he sent us the letter. That obviously didn’t add up (which I thoroughly explained to the judge), as he had texted me that day saying that we would get some of the deposit returned, and that he had no proof that he actually sent that letter. He clearly just wrote it and printed it out for the court hearing. During the court hearing he also said a lot of false and victim-blaming shit, such as implying that I participated in the violence that occurred, saying we caused damages that were definitely there when we moved in, and just attacking my character in general.

The judge ruled that the withholding of the security deposit was willful and awarded us double the deposit. But of course that wasn’t the end of it, and a few days before his deadline to pay us the money, he sends me a text just “letting me know that the decision has been appealed.” I didn’t answer and showed up to court again, and lo and behold, it’s more mud-slinging and arguing about things that we already established in the first hearing.

The judge upheld the original decision, and he eventually mailed me the check for double the deposit. In the memo line on the check where you can write the reason for the payment, he wrote, “for gaining twenty pounds.” But hey, I cashed that check and spent my half on a new gaming laptop, so I’d say I got the last laugh. I desperately wanted to text him and ask him if it was as fun as he thought it would be, but resisted the urge.

Edit: Apparently I didn’t make this clear enough, but yes, violence occurred towards me as well. I could do without the victim-blaming. And the dog that she brought in without permission chewed a tiny chunk off of the window sill. In court, the falsified deposit receipt letter was mostly comprised of “cleaning fees” and damages that were there when we moved in.

The Final Word

This why you need to carefully choose your roommates, understand tenant law, and never back down from your landlord when right is on your side.


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