You move out, leave the place in great shape, but after 14 days, you get a letter from the landlord saying she’s keeping your security deposit. It’s a major drag because you’ve just shelled out first and security and your new place, plus moving costs. Worse, you know the landlord is making up bogus reasons just to keep the cash. What can you do?
This recently happened to us. We were outraged by our landlords far-fetched, entirely imagined reasons for keeping our deposit and, worse, their nerve to claim we owed them several thousand dollars more. So we took our landlords to small claims court. And I’ll tell you up front that we won.
Making the case
It was our first experience in Small Claims, and no suprise, we learned quite a bit about how to successfully present a case and defend against a counter claim. We won, so we did quite a few things right, but we also picked up a few tips a few tips for navigating the court system and putting the best case forward.
- Read the directions carefully. Then read them again. The court has so many specific procedures that failing to do one could postpone or derail the case.
- Print out all relevant emails and photos in triplicate: one copy for the judge, one copy for the person you’re suing (the defendant) and one copy for you. If you win, you probably won’t win these costs back so work on the cheap.
- Mediation is an option presented to everyone first thing on the morning of the court date. If you are willing to accept anything less than what you’ve asked for in your claim, mediation is the place to strike a bargain.
- If mediation doesn’t work and you go before the judge, always be polite and courteous to the judge and other court officials. Use phrases like “Good morning, your honor”, “Thank you, your honor” and “Yes, your honor.” On our day in court we observed several very rude people and, no shock, they lost.
- Prepare talking points to present to the judge. Be clear and brief. Present your evidence and explain as simply as possible what happened, providing only important dates and details. For extra clarity, preparing a timeline is a great idea. She probably has a dozen cases after yours souse her time wisely.
- If the judge is asking you a lot of questions, you’re probably in trouble. Either you haven’t presented your case clearly enough or you are on shaky legal ground. If she asks the other side lots of questions, just be quiet and let them figure it out. Remember, whoever gets the most questions from the judge is probably going to lose.
Attorneys are not allowed in Small Claims, so you’ll have to go it alone. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t consult with an attorney in advance for advice. You just can’t bring him with you.
For more details about how to get your security deposit back, visit the judiciary’s website.
If you’ve won or lost a case, please reply and post your comments, tips or advice.