Author Topic: Security deposits, and small claims court  (Read 7603 times)

frugalcalan

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Security deposits, and small claims court
« on: December 10, 2012, 01:02:31 PM »
Turns out my crook of an ex-landlady has a history of tricking people out of the security deposits.

I'm going to court this Friday, with reluctance.  Obviously this subforum is for people on the other side of the fence, but does anyone have any experience?  Have any tips or advice?

DoubleDown

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2012, 01:28:15 PM »
Bring pictures of everything, outside and inside -- every room --  if you still have access to the property. If you don't still have access, bring any photos you can find that you might have taken prior to moving out that show the condition of the property.

Come prepared with a detailed description of everything you did to put the property in order when you left. For example, you hired Cleaner X, or you personally cleaned this room, that room, vacuumed, got down on your hands and knees to clean the floor, painted -- EVERYTHING. Write it all down so you will be prepared in court, don't rely on your memory when you are there. Bring any documentation you can to substantiate what you are saying (for example, a receipt for a cleaning service, or for cleaning products).

Does your ex-landlord provide an explanation of why they are withholding the deposit? Fortunately for you the law is on your side, they are required to return your deposit unless they can demonstrate that you damaged the property beyond normal wear and tear. Their "word" won't be enough, they will have to provide proof of any damages or the judge is likely to side with you.

LowER

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2012, 02:16:49 PM »
In my state, if a security deposit is incorrectly not returned, the landlord is liable for treble (triple) damages, ie; if your deposit was $1,000, the landlord may owe you $3,000.  Google "security deposit withheld Illinois" and you should find more information.  Good luck!

grantmeaname

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #3 on: December 10, 2012, 04:18:00 PM »
We're in the process of doing this with a campus-area rental. We're represented by student legal services, which is nice, but our initial work was sped up greatly by a nonprofit that disseminates information about Ohio's landlord tenant laws. If you can find an Illinois equivalent, you'll learn a lot from it.

caligulala

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #4 on: December 10, 2012, 04:58:00 PM »
I used this awesome lawyer 5 or 6 years ago when my landlord never returned my deposit. They were nice people, just forgetful, but I wasn't in a position to "forget" about $1500. He had to go to court 4 or 5 times, but I ended up getting $5000 after his fees. If your landlady doesn't show up in court, you'll get a default judgement and odds are good they won't bother to show up. The Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance is strongly in the tenant's favor, so familiarize yourself with it. Every residential lease I've seen in the city has it attached. Good luck!

Paul der Krake

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #5 on: December 10, 2012, 05:07:25 PM »
Fortunately I have excellent relations with my landlord, but a lot of people (not anyone in this thread in particular) do not realize that it's something they can and should actively seek.

It's best to go out of your way early on to talk with a landlord, and get to know him. When was the house bought? Why is he renting? eJust like they screen tenants, I have zero qualms questioning everything they say, looking them up when possible, and treating the whole process like a job interview.

Major red flags:
- vagueness on the terms, especially in the event of an accident on the property, insurance, etc.
- dismissing your questions as arrogance- how dare you question me? I'm a land owner!
- wanting to keep all the lease agreement copies themselves "in case of a fire"
- saying, at any point, "we'll figure it out"
- wanting to get out of the meeting.

When in doubt, just walk away. It's not worth it.

arebelspy

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #6 on: December 10, 2012, 05:48:00 PM »
I agree with the above posters.  The landlord is usually obligated to provide an itemized list of expenses, and only certain ones are legally allowed (normal wear and tear is not). 

Get familiar with your local laws.

Stay calm, state the truth.

Best of luck!

Let us know how it turns out.
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DoubleDown

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #7 on: December 11, 2012, 09:46:32 AM »
And if you do end up in court (assuming it's Small Claims and you will not have an attorney there for you), I'll add these other general pieces of advice. Sorry if it sounds stupid/obvious, but it isn't obvious for many, apparently:

- Dress professionally and conservatively
- Speak slowly and calmly, and confidently
- Stick to the facts at hand (don't throw around things like "she's a crook")
- Don't bring up your landlady's alleged history, even if you know it is true -- it is irrelevant
- Don't speak to the landlady directly, speak only to the judge
- State just a brief summary of your case, tell the judge the documentation you have to prove your claim, then listen carefully and respond to the judge's questions (if any)

Good luck!

frugalcalan

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #8 on: December 13, 2012, 06:15:03 PM »
And if you do end up in court (assuming it's Small Claims and you will not have an attorney there for you), I'll add these other general pieces of advice. Sorry if it sounds stupid/obvious, but it isn't obvious for many, apparently:

- Dress professionally and conservatively
- Speak slowly and calmly, and confidently
- Stick to the facts at hand (don't throw around things like "she's a crook")
- Don't bring up your landlady's alleged history, even if you know it is true -- it is irrelevant
- Don't speak to the landlady directly, speak only to the judge
- State just a brief summary of your case, tell the judge the documentation you have to prove your claim, then listen carefully and respond to the judge's questions (if any)

Good luck!

Thanks!  As for her "alleged history," it isn't alleged.  There's a number of people who have sued her for this very reason.  It was a bit difficult to track down because she varies the spelling of her name around.  And she makes it difficult to sue because she never provides her home address, only a PO box.  And you cannot send summons to a PO box.  As for calling her a crook, I won't bring that up in court.  But when I was renting from her, she constantly said, "I'm not a crook."  What honest person says that?!

And I am not going to say anything to her.  Except for one thing.  When I first started renting I thought that she was Jewish, like me (well, culturally.  Ish.  I'm an atheist.  But Jewish by blood!).  Turns out she is Muslim.  I don't give a fig; I think Islam is fascinating.  But you know the greating "Peace be upon you?"  Turns out there is an alternative, "War be upon you."  As-salamu alaykum.  Apparently it's what Jews said to Muslims back in the day.  So that will be my greeting.  I'll probably butcher the spelling, hah.

Thank you for the other advice.  Wish me luck!  I'm not going to get much sleep because I'm going to a midnight release of The Hobbit...


arebelspy

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #9 on: December 13, 2012, 09:44:51 PM »
But you know the greating "Peace be upon you?"  Turns out there is an alternative, "War be upon you."  As-salamu alaykum.  Apparently it's what Jews said to Muslims back in the day.  So that will be my greeting. 

Best just to let it go, rather than have this eating at you.

By all means, legally try to get your money back.. But whatever the outcome, let it go.
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Daley

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #10 on: December 13, 2012, 10:35:27 PM »
But you know the greating "Peace be upon you?"  Turns out there is an alternative, "War be upon you."  As-salamu alaykum.  Apparently it's what Jews said to Muslims back in the day.  So that will be my greeting. 

Best just to let it go, rather than have this eating at you.

By all means, legally try to get your money back.. But whatever the outcome, let it go.

Seconded. No landlord's worth getting this knotted up over, especially if you're already out. Let it go, forgiveness is a powerful thing to harness in your life.

Shalom aleichem.

N

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #11 on: December 13, 2012, 11:11:42 PM »
in illinois, my understanding is that the landlord is required to put your security deposit into an interest bearing account and return it all to you plus interest, minus damages. just fyi.

frugalcalan

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #12 on: December 14, 2012, 03:21:55 AM »
in illinois, my understanding is that the landlord is required to put your security deposit into an interest bearing account and return it all to you plus interest, minus damages. just fyi.

I believe that's only if they own a certain number of units.  This was just a condo that she rented out.

I stopped by my old apartment today.  The woman was hesitant to let me in.  Apparently my former landlady told her that I was crazy, and forbid her from letting me enter.  I said that was fine, I just wanted some pictures taken.  She offered to take them.  It was difficult to communicate what I wanted exactly, and eventually she suggested that I come in, and got to hear my side of the story.  She had already been thinking that the landlady was a bit off... and now she completely agrees.  I took a look at the "I spent $700 replacing this window frame" window and, shockingly, it has not been replaced.  Because it doesn't need to be.  And so on.  As I suspected, she came up with bogus charges in an attempt to keep my security deposit for herself.

Anyway.  Thanks again for the suggestions.  The Hobbit was pretty excellent.

frugalcalan

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #13 on: December 14, 2012, 01:36:43 PM »
Good news, I won.  Another element I left out is that she tried to countersue me.  She wasted her money for that; I argued my side well, with sufficient evidence, her countersue got denied without second thought.

She also almost went to jail for her behavior after the the judge decided the outcome.

Now comes the probably long process of getting her to actually pay me.  Sigh.

DoubleDown

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #14 on: December 14, 2012, 02:13:19 PM »
Congratulations! Glad to hear you were prepared and it worked out in your favor.

Yes, collections is a whole different animal... Best of luck to you!

arebelspy

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #15 on: December 14, 2012, 07:52:44 PM »
Congrats!  Good luck collecting!  :)
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grantmeaname

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #16 on: January 22, 2013, 06:55:47 PM »
We're talking to our attorney tomorrow. Our landlord has about $10k of potential downside if we litigate, and we have something like $600 of downside, so what's his settlement offer? $350.

Sonovabitch.

frugalcalan

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #17 on: January 24, 2013, 12:03:58 PM »
We're talking to our attorney tomorrow. Our landlord has about $10k of potential downside if we litigate, and we have something like $600 of downside, so what's his settlement offer? $350.

Sonovabitch.

Make him buuuuurrn.

jeepbraah

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #18 on: March 04, 2013, 08:45:08 AM »
I see you are already talking to a attorney but posting my story for future readers.

My story of roommates, love, regret, and court dates. Skip the the second paragraph if you just want to hear how small claims works.

I will keep the back story short. I met some people through a friend and 4 months later we decided rooming together would be a good idea. Having had to share dorm room in the air force with two other people for a month I figured I could deal with anything. They also seemed fairly nice. We moved in and everything went well for about 6 months. Then my GF was kicked out of the house by her parents. I asked the roommates if it would be ok if she stayed with us and we could talk about rent if it became a permanent thing. It did become permanent and I broached the subject of her paying rent. They wanted us all to pay 1/4 rent and I thought it was absurd we would pay the same as we were sharing a bedroom. They would not agree to any compromise so I told them I would move out and find a replacement roommate for them at my own cost. They said ok. I found a couple people. They said oh we don't want to do that so we came to an agreement on rent. We stuck to that agreement until the woman roommate decided she didn't like it anymore. (she only agreed to get two months of her way and then broke the agreement when it came to what I wanted). So she took us to small claims.

Small claims will consist of two things. Mediation or the actual court date. Mediation is where you sit down with a third party at the court house to come to a compromise. Or if things are to far gone to hash things out you can go into the court date. In mediation you will draft a document of what everyone is expected to do. This can be whatever you like. The roommates drafted a document of what they wanted and I added in what I wanted. (They also lied and said they had put in my changes but never did, re read the document repeatedly.) I read it at least 5 times at the mediation table and made changes to wording every time. You then leave the court house with a date scheduled to come back to the court if the mediation is not followed through. Even if you think the mediation was completed to everyone's liking go back or at least call the court house and see if the other party was satisfied. In my case we were happy with the mediation, the other party said they were as well. They lied and went to the court date anyway and won the court case. I then had to defend myself at garnishment court instead of small claims.

The actual court. Both parties will be called up to the front and you will each have an opportunity to tell your story. Bring a pad to make notes as you can't make counter points while the other party is talking. It will help when you can say Point A is false as they never did B. Make sure to bring any proof or documents you have. Leasing agreement, correspondence etc. One of the key points to my case was profanity written on mirrors. You don't want to make your opponent seem like evil people, but if they are you need proof. They constantly went on about how we were friends and didn't see this coming. (You started the court case and I have a signed document we agreed to a set amount of rent). All of my documents swayed the judge to see that I was right and they were wrong. But if you don't have proof all it is is he said she said. Don't try and trick people into proof but ask leading questions in emails. (example: me "why did you agree to pay this amount of rent in the agreement and then change your mind after you wanted your friend to move in?") While she didnt answer the question as it was damning evidence she also didn't deny it was the truth. So when I told the judge she had motives to create and un livable environment for me and my gf and she denied it I showed the judge the email.

Tl:DR. You need lots of proof for your court date. Try and think of all the arguments the other person will have about why you are wrong, and get proof that you are right.

grantmeaname

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #19 on: March 04, 2013, 10:04:11 AM »
We ended up settling because one of my co-claimants used the nuclear option, but that's some valuable insight into the small claims and mediation processes that I'll be sure to file away for if/when I need it again, thanks!

lorne4664

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Re: Security deposits, and small claims court
« Reply #20 on: January 14, 2014, 11:55:27 AM »
Major red flags:
- vagueness on the terms, especially in the event of an accident on the property, insurance, etc.
- dismissing your questions as arrogance- how dare you question me? I'm a land owner!
- wanting to keep all the lease agreement copies themselves "in case of a fire"
- saying, at any point, "we'll figure it out"
- wanting to get out of the meeting.

When in doubt, just walk away. It's not worth it.

I totally agree with your red flags, and i've encountered lots of them. First of all even though it is illegal to discriminate against families with children, pretty much every single landlord asks you about children, and no one wants to rent a two-bedroom to a couple with two children.

some will actually outright say no children, or no more than one child or such, but most before they tell you how much the rent is, they ask, how many people will be living there and how many of them are children, then quote you a ridiculous price if you have children (like $1200 for an $800 apt, and two months security deposit)
_________________________________________
but one landlord that really pissed me off, was the "- dismissing your questions as arrogance- how dare you question me? I'm a land owner!" Kind

I called to inquire about the apartment, and I asked him how many square feet it was. and this offended him. he said "it's a two-bedroom.. what do you mean how many square feet it is? i don't know how many square feet"  then he asked me how many people and i said 4, and he said "well its too small for 4 people" .. i ended the phone call because obviously I wasn't going to rent an apt from a landlord with this kind of attitude

i've seen two-bedroom apartments that are under 800 square feet, with others over 1100. It is a huge difference.. a cramped living room and cramped bedrooms that don't fit your furniture or give you enough distance from the television, vs. nice living room, a dining area, rooms with closets and room for a desk in addition to the bed.. or fit two beds for two children.

how is asking how many square feet the apartment is not a valid question? mind you, i am asking over the phone, i haven't actually seen the apt