When renting an apartment, the common issue that arises between landlords and tenants is related to security deposits. Tenants pay security deposits to landlords at the beginning of their leases to protect them in the event of damages or non-payment of rent. Despite security deposits being legal, disputes often arise over their amount, reasons for withholding them, and who is to receive a refund after moving out. This is where having an experienced tenant lawyer makes a big difference in recovering your security deposit.
How do security deposits work?
Before we get into how a San Francisco Tenant Lawyer helps, let’s review some basics around security deposits and laws that protect tenants.
- Most states limit security deposits to 1-2 months’ rent. Landlords cannot charge an unreasonable amount.
- Deposits must be placed in a protected account by the landlord, and not used for other purposes.
- Tenants should do a walkthrough when moving in and out, documenting the condition of the unit with photos. It protects against unfair damages claims.
- Normal wear and tear is not a valid justification for retaining a deposit. Landlords only deduct for actual damages caused by tenants or unpaid rent/fees.
- After moving out, tenants must provide a forwarding address in writing, so the landlord sends an itemized deduction list and deposit balance within 30 days in most states.
- If deductions are unreasonable, tenants have the right to get the full deposit back by taking legal action within time limit laws.
Security deposits recovered by tenant lawyers
While security deposit disputes are common, many tenants do not take action because they don’t understand the law or their legal options. hiring an experienced landlord-tenant lawyer levels the playing field by advocating for your deposit refund using specific strategies.
- Reviewing the lease agreement and local tenant laws to determine what reasons for withholding a deposit are valid or improper. Many illegal lease clauses are identified. Sending an official demand letter to the landlord requesting the full deposit back if deductions are unlawful or excessive. Lawyers know what language to use to get action.
- Advising tenants on documentation they need to build a case like photos, cleaning receipts, contractor estimates, and their testimony on apartment condition. Filing a small claims court lawsuit against the landlord if they refuse to return an improper amount. A lawyer handles all paperwork and represents you in court.
- Presenting argument and evidence in your favor to convince a judge the law entitles you to your full deposit refund. Discuss alternative dispute options like mediation if going to trial seems too lengthy or complex. A negotiated settlement may be reached more quickly.
- Recommending ways to recover if the landlord retaliates by giving a negative reference to future landlords. There are legal protections against this. Tracking down the landlord and assessing their assets to collect if you win in court but they still refuse to pay the judgment amount awarded. Lawyers have methods to find this information and force compliance with the court order.