How to Get Your Security Deposit Back in Small Claims Court - dummies

How to Get Your Security Deposit Back in Small Claims Court

By Judge Philip Straniere

Getting your security deposit back when faced with a small claims suit is much easier if you follow a few rules, starting with when you first move into a new rental. You’ll have an easier time getting your deposit back if your case goes to small claims court if you:

  • Can prove that you gave the landlord a security deposit: It’s amazing how many people use only cash to pay the security deposit or to pay their rent each month. If you give the landlord cash, be sure to get a receipt each time.

    It’s always better to use a check for any type of deposit. If you’re the tenant, it gives you proof of payment. If you’re the landlord, it gives you a bank account in the tenant’s name so that if you get a judgment, you have some place to look for money to enforce it.

  • Take photographs when you move into an apartment and again when you move out. This advice is important for both landlords and tenants. It s also a good idea to take pictures of every wall in every room. It’s amazing how different the condition of an apartment becomes depending on which party took the pictures.

    Establish the date the photos were taken, either by including a newspaper in the picture or using a camera that dates the photos. If there is damage, use a ruler or some other common item to establish the size. Remember the size difference between the item you bought from an infomercial and its actual size? The same discrepancies can happen in damage disputes.

  • Inspect the apartment with the landlord when you’re leaving. Both you and the landlord should sign a statement as to the condition of the apartment. You can also get a third party, not connected to the transaction, to inspect the property when you leave. If a real estate broker was involved when you rented, ask a representative from that office to do an inspection when you leave.

  • Keep your rent and security deposit receipts. Many states require a landlord to keep a log of tenant rent payments and to give the tenant a receipt for rent paid each month. If the landlord is required to do so, this can shift the burden of proof to the landlord to prove that she complied with this rule.

    The failure to comply can lead the court to conclude that the landlord is the party to bear the loss because she didn’t follow the law.

  • Bring a copy of your written lease to court. The written lease establishes whether a security deposit was required and in what amount.

If there’s no written lease, the tenant is forced to prove the security deposit with checks or receipts. Put them in a safe place!