In the hope of salvaging some of the deposit held by the landlord, my husband exchanged texts with the landlord. She kept coming up with all kinds of excuses why she wishes to deduct the cost of damages although none were stated at the time of the exit inspection. In frustration and anger at that, my husband said something like: "you can keep your money." He never mentioned that I was in agreement with him about saying that. I am a co-signer in the lease contract. Will that hold in a small claims court where I am suing her for the full deposit? Do we have a chance of winning the case?

Respectfully Evelyn Mayes

  • Where is this located? In some jurisdictions, you can sue for double the amount owed to you for late deposit refunds. How long was the landlord late already when you said that? Did you retract the statement as soon as your husband made it? Jan 24, 2020 at 5:21

3 Answers 3


I am a co-signer in the lease contract. Will that hold in a small claims court where I am suing her for the full deposit?

That seems unlikely. Lease contracts typically establish that tenants are jointly and severally liable. If your lease does not establish that, you would need to prove the landlord's agreement that your husband's acts with respect to the contract are not binding to you.

Even if you prove the aforementioned issue, the security deposit to be reimbursed would be prorated if the court decides that your husband essentially desisted from his portion of the deposit by saying to the landlord "you can keep your money".

Do we have a chance of winning the case?

Yes. It is unclear from your post whether the landlord's pretexts are tantamount to complying with her statutory obligation of timely notification of an itemized list of damages. Landlord-tenant statutes give a deadline (such as 30 days) for sending that notification. Non-compliance forfeits whatever entitlement the landlord would otherwise have as to the security deposit.

In case of landlord's compliance regarding that itemized list, you as tenants may dispute the legitimacy of the damages alleged therein.

Here the intricacy stems from your husband's statement "you can keep your money", which a reasonable person might construe as your husband's waiver --notwithstanding the contentious context-- of reimbursement. A waiver may be cognizable even if made reluctantly or under apparent reluctance. In fact, it is common for people to reluctantly waive their rights because they deem the matter not worth the hassle that court or quasi-judicial proceedings as well as extra-judicial disputes entail.

If necessary, you as tenants might want to posit that "your money" in that expression literally refers to the amount --if any-- that legitimately belongs to the landlord, and that the expression ought not to be confused with "you can keep the|that|my money". Your husband's expression literally reflects that he was not overreaching into landlord's funds, but that your husband's purpose simply was to recover [nothing more than] the security deposit.

Unless impracticable, I encourage you to litigate this matter in pro per because in doing so you would gain some exposure to legal proceedings. The amount involved is not too high, whence the matter would be litigated in Small Claims court (hence without being represented by a lawyer) anyway. With that exposure you will not be easily intimidated by lawyers/charlatans if your rights are violated in the future. But one lesson here is that that type of expressions can backfire because such expressions don't truly reflect the person's ultimate purpose and thus may be construed to that person's detriment.


In small claims court in many jurisdictions, sending a demand letter is the first step before you actually file the lawsuit. That means you send the landlord a certified letter stating the relevant lease and deposit law and that they must refund the full deposit (within a certain time, i.e. two weeks) because no damages were stated at the exit inspection, or you will file suit for the deposit (or more, depending on jurisdiction), as well as court costs. All small claims courts will have guides for writing demand letters.

Many times, that solves the problem; in your case, the landlord will see that you are serious, will weigh the costs of going to court and the fact that you have evidence of no damages (hopefully in writing), and they refund the deposit.

if they don't refund and ignore the demand letter, than you can file a suit. Most small claims courts have extensive help available, either online or by phone. If you do get to court, ignore the fact that your husband stated you can keep your money. Let the landlord bring that up; if they do, the judge will likely see that it was simply an outburst due to frustration and not consider it as any part of a verbal contract bearing on the lease.

...none were stated at the time of the exit inspection.

Do you have this in writing, like a checklist with signatures?

The other option is to Google for free legal aid or tenant law clinics in your city/county/state. Many will have free help to deal with the landlord issues, and sometimes a simple phone call from or threat letter from a legal aid organization will get your deposit back.

Do not go to the new tenants and/or check the apartment when new people are there; they are irrelevant to your case.


Go to the new tenants. If you tell them what happened, they'll be curious about your situation since their own deposit will be on the line when they move out.

If the landlord implied or said that he was going to fix something that you had (supposedly) broken, find out through the new tenants if the landlord has remedied the situation, or if he told them that he would remedy the situation.

For instance, if the landlord implied that he needed to hire someone to repair and repaint the walls, but didn't, it could be argued that you only relented because you thought the landlord was going to hire someone to do the work, or do the work himself. But if the landlord lied to you on that point, that should void any agreement you made with him.

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