0

I was a tenant, and I have a dispute with a landlord (a leasing corporation) over the security deposit. Based on the facts alone, it seems to me that the law is on my side (however I do know that in the USA this does not guarantee a win).

Originally the landlord claimed that I am responsible for a damage, therefore they would keep the whole deposit to fix it. However, after some correspondence with the landlord, they said they were willing to keep from my deposit only an amount that happens to be just slightly higher than the local Small Claims court fee (if I choose to file a claim there).

For example, the landlord is willing to take only $100 out of the deposit, while the court fee is $95.

Essentially, the landlord makes it useless for me to file a claim to defend myself.

But if I do file a claim and win, is it normal in a Small Claims court in the USA for the plaintiff to ask not only for a refund of the money that was taken unduly, but also for the defendant to refund the court filing fee the plaintiff had to pay, and maybe other expenses of the plaintiff like a compensation for the time lost on corresponding with the landlord and filing a claim?

Otherwise, it is an incentive for landlords to steal small amounts from deposits whenever they just think they have an excuse.

2

But if I do file a claim and win, is it normal in a Small Claims court in the USA for the plaintiff to ask not only for a refund of the money that was taken unduly, but also for the defendant to refund the court filing fee the plaintiff had to pay, and maybe other expenses of the plaintiff like a compensation for the time lost on corresponding with the landlord and filing a claim?

The question you are asking is governed by state law in the United States, not by federal law. So, it is not uniform across the United States, although there are many similarities between states, which makes it possible to provide a partial general answer.

In most U.S. states if you file a lawsuit of any kind and win, you receive not only your damages, but also your "court costs" and both pre-judgment and post-judgment interest at the appropriate rate on what you are awarded.

"Court costs" usually does not include attorneys' fees, but would include, for example, filing fees, service of process fees, fees that you had to pay to witnesses under subpoena, expert witness fees, postage charges associated with the mandatory delivery of documents in the case, and photocopying and stationary costs for trial exhibit books.

There can sometimes be disputes over who was the prevailing party if there is a counterclaim, and there can likewise be disputes of the reasonableness of claims for court costs. But money actually paid for a small claims court filing fee would almost never be considered unreasonable (unless, for example, you paid a jury demand fee in a case where there was no right to a jury trial).

This isn't a "refund" of your filing fee. The court keeps the money. It is simply an addition component of the money judgment awarded against the other party.

Also, if you file a lawsuit and lose, you have to pay the "court costs" of the defendant.

| improve this answer | |
  • Does what you wrote essentially apply also to Small Claims courts? Does it include the fee/cost for defendant with the plaintiff's claim? What about a compensation for time I had to spend on corresponding with the landlord and then preparing and filing the claim? It's a lot of overhead for me, is it acceptable to ask for a compensation if I can prove (from the emails) that the landlord on purpose deflected all the points I made and did not leave me with a choice but to waste the court's time? Otherwise it is an incentive for landlords to harass. – rapt Apr 1 at 23:04
  • @rapt This includes Small Claims courts. "Court costs" is usually defined by statute or court rule and usually includes only out of pocket expenditures and not lost time associated with dealing with the claim or the dispute. – ohwilleke Apr 1 at 23:06
  • I understand that the time lost is not "Court costs". But is it acceptable to ask for a compensation for the time, simply because it is a damage that was caused to me, intentionally by the landlord as I can prove, by the landlord's attempt to use a very weak reasoning to justify using my deposit. Otherwise, it is an incentive for landlords to engage in the practice of small unjustified stealing. They would know that most people, even if they are sure that their claim would be accepted, would not go to the trouble, because their time will not be compensated for. – rapt Apr 1 at 23:26
  • @rapt No. This is a corollary of the American rule that you don't get attorneys' fees in litigation to some extent. – ohwilleke Apr 1 at 23:29
  • It means that other than the rare possibility of being required to pay the plaintiff's court costs, in case the tenant 1. decides to sue the landlord and 2. the tenant wins, the landlord has all the incentive to engage in petty stealing from tenants' deposits. I wonder who donate to those who write these laws. – rapt Apr 2 at 3:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.