I had a really bad landlord. He owes me money for my damage deposit and prorated rent. The lease says he has 30 days to return it. After I moved out I reminded him of this fact. He replied (in a very lengthy and rambling email) that he latter noticed a stain on the carpet. He had already inspected with me and said everything looked good. He also said he will be charging me for using his furniture. This was never the agreement. This is not a complete list but IMHO nothing he said has merit and he seems to think he can arbitrarily come up with charges I never agreed to.

I feel that he has never acted in good faith and arguing would be a waste of time. Should I bother responding to his emails? Or should I wait the 30 days then hire a lawyer?

  • Did you cause the stain on the carpet? – Putvi May 20 '19 at 19:36
  • Too broad. Depends on the jurisdiction. Say in New Zealand it would be Tenancy Tribunal, not small claims. – Greendrake May 20 '19 at 19:47
  • @Greendrake I agree that specifying the jurisdiction is important, but the OP's use of the tag small-claims-court suggests that there is such forum in his jurisdiction. – Iñaki Viggers May 20 '19 at 21:37
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    @IñakiViggers small claims court exists in NZ too but it is not the appropriate court to hear tenancy matters. – Greendrake May 20 '19 at 22:26
  • @Greendrake Point taken (+1). – Iñaki Viggers May 21 '19 at 10:23

If you can persuade him to return the deposit, that is the best outcome: cheaper and quicker. The second cheapest alternative is filing a claim in small claims court (assuming your jurisdiction doesn't have a special landlord-tenant dispute adjudication board). This does not require a lawyer, it simply requires that you can say why you think you are entitled to have your deposit returned. He will, of course, say why he thinks he is entitled to keep the deposit. This is where it could be useful for you to actually know the landlord-tenant law of your jurisdiction.

For example, it is pretty much guaranteed that deduction for "furniture usage" which you didn't agree to is illegal. It is reasonably likely that a stain on the carpet could be deductible. You are probably entitled to a written statement of alleged damages, and you would need to dispute his claims (in writing, delivered by certified mail). In that dispute letter you should provide all of the evidence you have to support your claim (for example, photos). If it all comes down the carpet stain (total replacement because of a dirty spot), the court is not likely to accept his deduction. On the other hand, if this was a new carpet and you spilled a gallon of black ink on it, you will probably have to pay.


Should I bother responding to his emails? Or should I wait the 30 days then hire a lawyer?

Depending on your jurisdiction, it might have been a tactical mistake to prematurely remind the landlord to refund your deposit.

For instance, in Michigan, MCL 554.609 gives the landlord a deadline of 30 days to send the former tenant an itemized list of damages. Your reminder prompted him to bring up (whether falsely or not) the alleged damages, whence now you will have to dispute (1) that the substance or details in his email fall short of "itemized list of damages", and/or (2) the veracity of alleged damages. It is noteworthy that a landlord is allowed to amend his "list" within that 30-day period, whence his prior assertion that everything looked good is not decisive.

Replying to his emails might help you if this way you prompt him to contradict himself or to further evidence his lack of good faith. More important, henceforth any communication should be only in writing, lest he indulge in defamation once he realizes his position is devoid of merit. Keep in mind that your evidence might end up being read by a judge.

In Michigan and surely in other jurisdictions, parties are not allowed to be represented by lawyers in Small Claims court. This is a good opportunity for you to get some (minor) exposure to litigation so you don't get easily intimidated in the event of unrelated judicial proceedings in the future.

  • As you can see in this Q&A several US states DO allow lawyers in small claims. (For example, MD, SC and NY allow lawyers.) Others do not. Elsewhere this may vary by country. Do not assume the same rules apply everywhere. – David Siegel May 20 '19 at 21:44
  • @DavidSiegel I see. But nowhere did I assume or suggest that "the same rules apply everywhere". That's why I wrote "and surely in other jurisdictions" instead of "in every jurisdiction". – Iñaki Viggers May 20 '19 at 21:51
  • I took "and surely in other jurisdictions" to mean "in all or most other jurisdictions". If that wasn't what you meant, my apologies. But I think what you wrote could easily be read that way. Or maybe I am reading poorly today. Anyway, the point is now clear, some jurisdictions allow lawyers in small claims, others do not. Even where they are allowed, many people choose not to use them in small claims courts.. – David Siegel May 21 '19 at 2:43
  • The phrase "and surely in other jurisdictions" carries rather more meaning than just "Other jurisdictions" , particularly when used without the indefinite article "some". I appeal to others here, do you think my reading plausible, or not?. – David Siegel May 21 '19 at 11:56
  • @DavidSiegel The term "surely" only has a connotation of high probability or certainty that there exists at lease one [unidentified] item with the characteristic at issue, not that "all or almost all" items present that characteristic. Plain English. Your misconception amounts to alleging that the statement "There's surely some water in the recipient" means "The recipient is full or almost full of water" simply because the idea is prefixed with "surely". That would be wrong. To summarize, the language "surely some" does not mean "all or most of it". – Iñaki Viggers May 21 '19 at 12:19

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