Landlord refuses to return deposit!

china_cat84March 3, 2010

My husband and I recently moved out of our apartment into a house that we just purchased.

We never had a lease at the apartment, though the landlord often said he would have us sign one, he never did. When we first moved into the apartment, we found out that the landlord had JUST purchased it (maybe a week prior to us moving in) and he hadnt even bothered cleaning or making any repairs to the apartment. It hadnÂt been lived in for quite some time so it was very dirty and full of bugs and spiders. The faucet in the kitchen didnÂt work  there was no hot water and it squirted everywhere. It took him a month to have it repaired. The ceiling in the upstairs 1/2 bath was caving in and it took him a month to have that repaired. The walls were damaged and dinged. The carpets were filthy. The ceiling panels in the bathroom are wet and starting to cave in. Also, we never received keys to the apartment. We received one key to the main stairwell, but since the landlord sometimes uses the stairwell (he lives in the apartment below ours) he asked us to keep it unlocked. The landlord also made a harassing entry into our apartment on the very first evening we lived there. I was showering, husband was out, and daughter was sleeping. All of a sudden, there was a loud banging at the door and he rushed into our apartment while I was in the bathroom, naked without any access to clothes, ranting about some minor leak downstairs. Granted, a leak can be an emergency  but itÂs not good to go running into someoneÂs living space when they are naked and taking a shower! The landlord is never home either  he is an over the road trucker so he is rarely around. This winter, the property was not adequately maintained. The sidewalks were dangerously icy and snow covered. Never once were we told that we needed to take care of any of the snow shoveling. When we first moved in, my husband actually offered to take care of the lawn for a discount off our rent and the landlord declined and said that his son would do it. It was so icy, that I didnÂt want to leave the house for fear that IÂd fall. I ended up having to buy special traction covers for my shoes. Needless to say, our landlord has not been the best.

Now, he has been telling our friend and neighbor that heÂs going to withhold some or all of our deposit because the carpets need steam cleaned and because itÂs "disgusting" up there. I have no idea what he's talking about! The apartment is SPOTLESS which is MUCH better than it was when we moved in. And we are planning on using our own carpet cleaner to clean the carpets before we leave. I did take before and after photos to prove that it was a mess. What else can I do? Our friend and neighbor said that our landlord told him that he (the landlord) is just irritated because now heÂll have to pay the full mortgage payment on the place and he doesnÂt have any potential renters. So IÂm sure heÂs just doing this out of spite. I just couldnÂt stand living there any more  it was unsafe for my daughter and when the landlord was home, he threw loud parties and there were people banging on our door (thinking it was the door to the landlordÂs house) at 3 am! I just want my deposit back  I think we deserve it. Our neighbor and friend asked the landlord why he doesn't want to give our deposit back and what problems he has had with us. The landlord said that the only problems he has had is that we're moving out - but we told him when we moved in that it was temporary until we bought a house. He also confided to our friend and neighbor that he didn't keep the deposit in a special account like landlords are supposed to, he deposited it into his own account and spent it! So he doesn't have the money! I just don't think we should have to pay for the cleaning of this apartment when we didn't get the same courtesy when we moved in.

I don't think it's really worth it to hire a lawyer - unless the landlord ends up paying for our attorney costs - because the deposit is only $400. It just really bothers me that the landlord would even THINK of keeping it. We were model tenants. Never noisy, always paid rent on time, never complained, always did as we were asked.

Any suggestions? Thanks!

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Ordinarily, I'd say you could try Small Claims Court to get the deposit back, but not having a lease is going to be a problem.

Do you have anything that proves you paid a security deposit? A check, a money order, anything in writing from the landlord that shows that a deposit was required? That would go a long way in helping you get your money back.

The laws on security deposits vary from state to state. My suggestion would be to google your state and "security deposit" and find out exactly what the landlord should have done with your money. Then use that against him. For example, send him a registered letter, which requires his signature, which states that Your State gives him X number of days from the end of your lease (or the day you move out) to refund the deposit, plus interest. Work out how much interest he owes and put that in the letter. Put in your new address so he knows where to send the money.

The trick is to make the letter sound as if you had consulted a lawyer, which might get him nervous enough to refund your money.

Something like this:

Dear Landlord:

As you know, we are vacating the apartment at 123 Main Street, Unit 4, second floor, on March 31, 2010. We would like to arrange for a walk-though with you prior to that date to determine the condition of the unit and any necessary cleaning that must be done prior to our departure. Please contact us at 123-555-2324 by March 15th to set up this walk-through.

As State law requires, the security deposit must be returned, with 5.6% interest within 31 days of our departure. We expect the total sum of $XXX to be delivered to our new address, 456 Broad Avenue, New City, State, Zip.


Your Name

Frankly, I wouldn't have stayed there one night without a key to the front door that locked. He's going to have a hard time finding any tenants if that's how he thinks a landlord should act.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2010 at 3:35PM
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Thanks, camlan, for the advice! I appreciate it!

We have one of the stubs from a money order that shows 1st month's rent and deposit paid. I wrote on the stub from each month when it was given to him and what month it was for - it's a pain to search for the date printed in tiny letters on the stub but they're there!

In Iowa, the landlord has 30 days to return the deposit. I never found anything about him owing interest to us. I did do a google search a few days ago and found on the RPA (Rental Protection Agency or something similar) that the landlord MUST keep the deposit separate from his own money - such as in a savings account for that purpose only or in a trust fund. He may have the deposit in an interest-bearing account and he can legally keep any interest earned until the tenant has lived in the apartment for 5 years or more.

I also found some vague things about since we never received keys to the actual dwelling, he technically never surrendered the dwelling to us.

We did write similar things in our notice to vacate as you did in your example letter - we gave him our forwarding address. I actually made it sound very lawyer-y. Here's what we wrote:

February 1, 2010

This notice is to notify you,_________________, that your tenants, _______________________, will be vacating the rental property at _______________________ by March 1, 2010.
The property rented by them will be cleaned and left in the same condition as when it was first occupied by the tenants listed above. Please note that the tenants have taken dated photographs of the property upon moving into the property. You may contact them to acquire these photos if you wish.
The reason we are moving is because we have outgrown the apartment and are no longer able to live here comfortably. We have recently just purchased a house.
As per Iowa Code Chapter 562A.12, the security deposit ($400) must be returned within 30 days. Please send the deposit to our forwarding address at: _________________________________.
We would like to do a walk-through of the property on March 1st, 2010 or at your earliest convenience. Please let us know when would be best for you.

Tenant #1: ________________________________________________________

Tenant #2:_________________________________________________________

Of course, it was formatted differently. I also added blanks in place of addresses and names to protect our privacy.

I don't have proof that he didn't keep the money in an appropriate account - just the say so of our friend and neighbor. Basically, the LL is PO'd that we moved out and he doesn't have the rent coming in every month. He never contacted us for a walkthrough at all.

I also have a handwritten log of all noise issues, upkeep/maintenance issues, and miscellaneous. Do you think that might help?

As for tenants, he had people up there on March 1st to show them the apartment. I'm sure he won't have any issues finding tenants - we live in a very small town (5,000 people give or take) and people don't really care about keys and locking doors much. Not to mention that it's difficult to find cheap apartments in our area. I just don't think my husband and I should be charged to clean the apartment when it's MUCH cleaner than it was when we rented it and when we didn't have the same courtesy extended to us.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2010 at 4:44PM
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If you live in Iowa, here is your state's landlord/tenant code. Actually, they spell things out rather nicely. Not a lot of rambling legalese.

562A.10 of your code addresses no written lease. Basically if you took possession, he took your $, 'without reservation' on either party's part it gives your verbal agreement the same weight as if it had been written.

I read through your post twice. Quite a bit jumped out at me. If you pursue it, it might be wise to anticipate some things coming up. Not taking sides, just pointing out observations based on what you said.

You're putting heavy emphasis on how the money was handled and saying he doesn't have it based on what a neighbor said. Neighbor is a source of information to you but in the end it's just a neighbor talking and not worth anything more than that. Where the money at is the last duck in the row. First it has to be established you're entitled to any/all of SD back.

About the damage. Crumbling ceilings and holes in walls are hard to miss on an initial viewing. You can argue you lived in a dump that was never repaired, but you rented the place in that condition. And you've got to be realistic. Even in the nicest of places walls get dings, that's a nothing issue. Holes would be different. Big difference between hairline crack in ceiling (settling will do that in an old house) to plaster chunks falling down. If it was really bad, unless it was the last place possible for you to rent to get a roof over your head, why did you opt to take it? And if a LL promises to fix something major, it should always be gotten in writing before moving in. I'm not condoning a LL let his place fall apart and be a hazard, nor is it legal. But tenants have options. So taking a unit in that condition, being long-suffering, then trying to use that as leverage later to get SD back doesn't make sense. The faucet deal was not handled well by him, but it was fixed so isn't relevant now.

The harassing entry situation. Don't see it. That leak certainly constitutes an emergency entry - no notice required by law. (That type of leak is major tho, not minor.) You said you were in the shower and your daughter was sleeping when you heard loud banging and he rushed in. Is there a chance neither of you heard him knocking at a normal level before that? At that point all he knew was water was going where it shouldn't, needed to be stopped at the source, and he has no idea if anyone is home, not home, ignoring him, didn't hear him, sound asleep. He is allowed to protect the integrity of the structure, hopefully swiftly. (Had you attempted to delay his entry purposely that could really backfire.) As far as ranting, maybe he could have been more diplomatic, but LLs are human, too. You've just purchased a house yourself. What frame of mind would you be in to discover a leak like that a week after your purchase?

The landlord is never home either he is an over the road trucker so he is rarely around. This winter, the property was not adequately maintained. The sidewalks were dangerously icy and snow covered. Never once were we told that we needed to take care of any of the snow shoveling. Uh, might be wise to leave that one alone. Did you ask if your rent payment included snow removal service? If only other building occupant is away all the time for work, & your rent didn't specifically include the cost of providing a service like that, it can be reasonable concluded without being told that if it snows, you might have to grab a shovel and toss down some de-icer and clear a path for yourselves and car.

I also found some vague things about since we never received keys to the actual dwelling, he technically never surrendered the dwelling to us. But he did surrender possession of the premises to you. You lived there. And as far as a key goes, you're absolutely entitled to one from the start. Why would you live there the entire time without the ability to lock your door? You had the option of requesting (preferably in writing) and if he still failed to comply immediately, call a locksmith, have a new lock installed, keep your keys, give LL a copy key and the bill.

It's at a date now where you don't have legal possession or access to the place anymore. You say the place is spotless. But yet you've not cleaned the carpet yet - it's still on your to-do list (tho your tenancy is done). But then you say you shouldn't have to pay for cleaning of the place on move out when you weren't shown the same courtesy when you moved in. I'm confused - spotless or it needs to be cleaned?

I didn't read through the laws on it, but if your state law says you need to give 30 days notice, it means 30 days. Your letter only gives 28. If it only requires "a month" you're OK. Also, if he's got 30 days to respond from date of your notice, that gives him till 3/2 because Feb only had 28 days. So maybe it's en route to you now via postal service. Guess next couple days will tell.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2010 at 1:01PM
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I appreciate your response. I guess I wasn't clear on several issues.

First of all, when we viewed the dwelling it was not in as bad of shape as it was when we moved in. Second of all, though the house is old it has been totally remodeled into 2 separate apartment buildings so everything is basically new - or newer.

When he made the "emergency" entry into the apartment - I meant to say I HAD been in the shower. The banging started right after I stepped out. I yelled that I'd be there in a sec but either he ignored me or didn't hear me and he rushed in. The leak was NOT an emergency and it actually didn't even come from our apartment as I later found out. He didn't really look to see where it came from, he just rushed upstairs and began screaming. Apparently, he left a faucet on outside and it leaked thru the foundation.

As for the maintenance of the lawn/property - we were told specifically that we did not have to maintain the lawn, sidewalks, stairs, or anything outside of our apartment. We even asked him if we could take care of it and get a discount on rent and he said NO. His son, who lives with him, was supposed to take care of it but didn't. The lawn was mowed a few times and he did use a snow blower on the driveway and sidewalk after the first snow, but after that there was nothing. When we left, the sidewalks had at least a foot of snow still on them and that is definitely supposed to be taken care of by the property owner.

As for the damage, we were told that the faucet was replaced the day before we moved in. We were told that the ceiling was repaired before we moved in. We were told that we would receive keys within 3 days because he was going to change the locks. He never changed the locks. He kept telling us that he'd have the repairs done 'x' day and then when that day came, he'd make another promise until we finally told him that we'd move out or make the repairs ourselves and take it out of rent and he did it.

And sorry to be confusing about the carpet cleaning - I wrote this in MSword before we moved out and I missed editing that. We have already steam cleaned the carpets. We actually cleaned them once, let them dry, and cleaned them again. They still look dingy and they're stained from before we moved in, but they are clean. LL says that we never did it and that the carpets look filthy.

As for why we moved in...well, we couldn't afford the apartment we were living in as the LL had just raised the rent. She was actually worse than this LL but that's another story. We also live in a small town and a lot of people have had their houses foreclosed upon. Apartments were in demand and difficult to find especially for the price range we needed. This apartment was spacious and the LL seemed very easy-going. Our soon-to-be neighbor and friend was friends with the LL so we figured that would help as well. So we were desperate.

Also - the LL has 30 days after the tenants vacate a property to give the deposit back. He also has to include a list of eligible repairs made if any money is missing from the deposit. So that would be the first of April, not the first of this month. As for 30 days vs 28 days to give notice, we were told that we had a month - not 30 days - so that's what we gave.

Our neighbor and friend says that he will speak for us in court - if it gets that far. He will tell about the condition of the apartment when we moved in (he was actually the one who showed us the apartment - not the LL) and he will tell how the apartment was cleaner and in better condition upon moving out since he helped to clean the place. He is also willing to say what the LL told him about how the money was handled, etc. We have photos, we have a log of the noise and drunken people banging on doors at 3am, we have money order stubs to show we always paid rent on time. What else can I do?

    Bookmark   March 4, 2010 at 2:20PM
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OK, that's a lot clearer.

Most critical is the notice part (notice given on your part). Again, I didn't read Iowa code very far (doing taxes now so taking a break.) But you should really investigate that one and don't take another's word for it. Find it in print from a reliable source whether it's '30 days' notice or a 'calendar month'. (I know, it sounds nitpicky, but that's how laws work.) If you're in line with your State's requirements, that's good. If not, don't mention it till LL has a chance to finish his part. Maybe he'll get it re-rented quickly, and just move on if things are in order.

Unless there is damage there that was not when you moved in, or you owe him rents, or broke the (verbal) lease there really is no reason for him to refuse to return it. He could be just in a bad mood and letting off steam to neighbor because it's a bear to rent a place in winter. People generally don't want to move in cold weather, change kid's schools, etc.

You've done about all you can do at this point. I'd say technically he's not officially refused to give it to you because he's still got time left to settle up on his end, inspect for any damages, etc. if your laws state he has 30 days after you vacate. My state calls it a Security Deposit Accounting, he probably has to the same. A written breakdown, starting with total funds received, list any itemized deductions taken from SD, deduct those and refund you anything left. And he has to have documentation for those deductions. (Invoices pd. to anyone for damage repairs, materials purchased, etc.) So it's a matter of giving him the allotted time to finish his end. A short note to him at the the halfway mark might serve as a reminder. But that extra time is given to find things not readily noticeable on a walk-through inspection. IOW something that will appear on use. He is legally allowed that time, can use it up to the last day, so no point pressuring or making demands. If he refuses to return it or it's past his allotted time and you've heard nothing, that's the time to take any next steps.

You come across as thorough and doing your homework, so that will benefit you.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2010 at 4:16PM
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Definitely sounds like a bad landlord. But I don't think any of the stuff that happened while you lived there is legally relevant to getting your deposit back. All that matters is:

you paid a security deposit
he owes it back to you
you have photographic proof of the condition of the apartment when you moved in and when you moved out

You are probably going to have to chase this guy for the money. If he doesn't return it to you within 30 days, send him a certified letter with copies of your photos and let him know that you are willing to take him to small claims court. You won't need a lawyer for small claims court. And if you've got photos and a witness, the judge will probably find in your favor... but don't be surprised if your landlord never pays up. Even if there is a judgment against him.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2010 at 12:12AM
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Thanks for the advice guys!

Yeah,mdoats, I know that some people don't care if they've got judgments against them. After my mom got divorced and her dead beat husband refused to pay the debt that was assigned to him - despite the numerous contempt charges - I've also realized that the court doesn't really care what happens after they pass judgment either - especially in small claims court and civil issues.

One good thing about Iowa law is that, if the LL doesn't return the SD within the allotted period of time, the entire SD reverts to the tenant and the LL can NOT with hold any money for ANY reason because he forfeits it.

I wonder...before this apartment, we moved out of another apartment in July. Never got the SD back then either, because my husband said that he didn't care about it (the SD was only $175...they made their money by charging a $375 pet deposit) so we never really pursued it. Technically, since it has not been a year, we could get that deposit back and the LL (who was worse than the LL we've been talking about)couldn't keep any of it since she never tried to give it back. Don't know if it's worth pursuing but it's interesting to think about.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2010 at 11:47AM
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