I'm having a typical tenant landlord dispute. The TLDR is that I'm the tenant and my property manager is claiming exorbitant damages and landscaping clean up fees as well as home cleaning fees to a property we rented in Florida for 1 year.
I've moved to NJ after that rental. I want to take him to small claims as I have video of the house when we left it showing that it was not dirty enough to warrant 1k clean up but the main thing I think I can get him on is that he didn't follow the language of the lease in the security deposit section. He didn't send a certified letter letting me know his intent to make claims within 30 days. 33 days after the lease ended, he mailed a certified letter with a check that had a tiny fraction of the of the security deposit and a letter detailing what was deducted and why. (Hes supposed to allow me 15 days to refute any claims he was making).
He did send an email 15 days after we left saying he was "waiting for bills from the cleaners". However, along with the check that he sent 33 days after the lease ended, he sent a letter detailing what was deducted and why. However, On 9/13/20, he sent another email with a bill from the cleaners attached that is dated 8/31 (the last day of the lease) claiming he had just received it. He's going to claim they didn't get him a bill until 8/31 (I know he probably got them to make up a phony bill with that date exactly 30 days after the lease ended and claim that's why he couldn't send the certified letter in time)
In our back and forth where I told him I was going to take him to court and sue him for the legal fees+the security in an effort to have him just return the security deposit he claimed that the landlord "knows the best real estate lawyer in Florida" and that I'd be the one getting stuck paying the legal fees.
I've reached out to lawyers in the area but everyone is trying to charge 300-400 just for a consultation fee but I would be devastated if I had to pay for the 2 trips to Florida (for mediation + small claims court appearance) and I ended up losing and being forced to pay his legal fees on top of losing my security deposit.
I believe I have a very strong case outside of just the 30 day clause refuting the costs hes claiming but I'm kind of lost as to how to go about fighting this.
My main question is: how strictly will a small claims court uphold the language of the lease. Will they be lenient enough and assume an email is good enough for a certified letter or will it be simply - didn't comply with the 30 days, you lose.