I recently moved from an apartment complex. Well past 30 days after my move-out we have received no contact from the property management of any sort. They had been provided phone, email and forwarding address.

If they're going to keep any part of the deposit for any reason, my local law (Iowa) requires them to send written notice of explanation within 30 days, or they must forfeit withholding any of the deposit. (It does not mean they can't bill me afterwards). See: https://coolice.legis.iowa.gov/Cool-ICE/default.asp?Category=billinfo&Service=IowaCode&input=562A#562A.12

I sent them a letter by certified mail, to central management of the entire company, requesting the specific amount to be returned, along with all dates (move in, deposit given, move out, etc), and requested a response within 5 business days. It's been several weeks since they received the letter, but they have still failed to contact me at all.

I left them a voicemail requesting them to contact me by a certain reasonable time, and that I'll be seeking legal counsel and proceeding to court if that doesn't happen.

What would normally come next in this process, when the law is clear I'm owed my deposit?

Do deposit disputes just go to small claims court, or do I need to do something else first to establish a case?

What documentation do you typically need to support a deposit dispute?

  • Are you able to modify this so it's more applicable to a general audience?
    – Pat W.
    Oct 6, 2015 at 13:25
  • @PatW. Most likely. What would you suggest?
    – user702
    Oct 6, 2015 at 13:25
  • You're getting close votes since it's written like you're asking for specific legal advice. Maybe you could turn it into a hypothetical that preserves the central facts but that doesn't cross the education and information vs. advice line
    – Pat W.
    Oct 6, 2015 at 13:29
  • @PatW. Let me know if that helped
    – user702
    Oct 6, 2015 at 13:36
  • 1
    Ya, no problem. It was important. So, I would send a last demand, by certified mail, for the full return of your deposit. After the 30 days have passed he can no longer keep any amount of it, even with cause. Check your local statute because if you don't get notice or return within 30 days and they force you to sue, you can recover treble damages. Then, if you don't get it in however long you specify in the letter, you sue. That certified mailing will are the lynch pin proof. Also, you need to figure out if you have housing court, or if you just go to small claims/district court.
    – gracey209
    Oct 6, 2015 at 17:14

1 Answer 1


You are ready for small claims court. The forms you need are all available online. Iowa has a good site for DIYers like yourself. I'm not going to link to the forms because they are different for areas that e-file vs those that don't. You need an Original Notice and Petition for Money Judgment. There are very specific instructions on the instructions page.

If everything you've reported here is true, you should have an easy time of it. From the statute that you linked to:

In an action concerning the rental deposit, the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, the reason for withholding all or any portion of the rental deposit shall be on the landlord.

I want to be careful suggesting what you do with that extra information you provided. Since the burden is on the defendant I suggest that the extra information is not necessary and will only cloud the issue and make the judge/magistrate mad. However, if the landlord shows up and spins some tall tale you might want to prepare one page of your own facts about continuous failings and copies of the various letters you sent. Bring a few copies of this info if you need it. I suggest one for yourself, one for defendant, one for the judge, and an extra to offer to the clerk. But seriously, you shouldn't need this stuff and you shouldn't mention having it because the burden is on the landlord.

Filing appears to be $85. The notice includes court costs in the total requested. Be sure to pay attention during the hearing. It might go really fast and you want to make sure that the deposit PLUS court costs are included in the amount of the judgement. I don't know what all is included but you are going to have at least a service fee for the process server. If you can, ask the judge politely to include all of these costs in the judgement. So when he says, I find for the plaintiff in the amount of X, make sure that's the total and not just the deposit.

  • It looks like I'll also have to petition to have the fee deferred, because I can't afford it and it's a rather large amount compared to the disputed amount itself.
    – user702
    Oct 6, 2015 at 3:01
  • Yup, that occurred to me. $85 surprised me. You've probably seen this it here it is again: iowalegalaid.org/files/A3ED30CF-AFFE-7431-9310-0D521E4312AF/…
    – jqning
    Oct 6, 2015 at 3:08

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