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Deposit Delay

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Posted On: 03/31/2010

QUESTION

We moved from our rental apartment more than three months ago. Since then, our deposit has not been returned. How can we get our money back?

ANSWER

State and local rules vary, but the odds are good that your money will be returned. The first step is to see what's required in your jurisdiction. Speak with a local community housing office or legal clinic. Or, as a start, go online and search for “rental deposit rules” in your state.

Here are some basic issues to consider:

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1. Is there a deadline by which time the deposit must be returned, say 45 days?

2. Must the landlord schedule a walk-through with the tenant to assess damage? If so, when must it be scheduled? Maybe 30 days.

3. Must the landlord list specific damages and their financial value? Charges for normal wear and tear are not allowed, so the longer you've rented the more protection you have.

4. What's the penalty for not promptly and fully returning a rental deposit? In my state tenants can get treble damages.

If the landlord has not met the deadlines or other requirements then damage claims - even legitimate damage claims - may not be allowed.

Send the landlord a courteous but firm letter. Mention the rules in your state, the possible remedies and that you want your money back in full and with interest within 15 days after your letter is received. Make sure your letter is sent by certified mail with a return receipt requested. That way you know for sure when it arrived.

What happens next? A lot of states look dimly at landlords who unreasonably withhold deposits, so a landlord with any sense will quickly send back the money.

In the future, photograph the unit when you vacate. That way if there's a dispute you'll be able to show the precise condition of the property. For further information, speak with an attorney or legal clinic.

Peter G. Miller is the author of The Common-Sense Mortgage and a veteran real estate columnist. Have a question? Please write to peter@ctwfeatures.com.

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