Landlord Cancels Deposit Check, Makes Other Checks Bounce, Sucks

For a tenant, it sometimes feels like there are two kinds of landlords: bad and worse. William tangled with one of the latter, who put a stop payment on his deposit payment, citing the need to pay to clean the room and other
Thanks to this, several of his checks bounced and he got lots of insufficient fund fees.

ve heard, and experienced, landlords taking out exorbitant cleaning fees
made all the more teeth-gnashing by the apartment being filthy when we moved in
but this is the first we
ve ever heard of a landlord cancelling the check AFTER it
s been issued.

What should William do…?

First we advise checking his lease to see what it says about deposit remittance. Then, take a gander at the SoCal renter code. Some states basically require you to take pictures of the apartment before moving in, otherwise you
re screwed and whatever the landlord says, goes, along with your deposit. We, and William, are wondering though that if cancelling the check moves the offense from simply gouging to something illegal.

We also think he may just be screwed and this is why you should never give your landlord your last month’s rent.

Anyone else know better than us? The full text of his letter follows.

Dear Consumerist,

I live in Southern California, and I received a letter today from my bank (BofA), telling me that a stop payment was issued on my return deposit from my previous landlady. Because of this, several of my checks bounced, and I got slammed with insufficient fund fees.

She gave me my check on Feb 22, and I deposited it the next day, Feb 23. And today, I get a letter in the mail telling me a stop payment was issued, and the amount of the check was debited from my account, ALONG WITH A $5 service fee!!!

The bank was “nice” enough to tell me that the stop payment was issued on Feb 23 (the day AFTER she gave me my check), but the debit didn’t happen until two days ago (March 1), causing all sorts of wonderful problems with my bills.

Upon calling my landlady, she said that she never performed a stop payment. Then, she started saying things like how she needed to pay to clean the room I rented, and that there were issues. But, I had officially left in the middle of January, and even when I received my return deposit check on Feb 22, there wasn’t a peep about any of these “problems.”

Being the trusting type, I went to the branch, and asked them who had the power to stop payments. Only the person in charge of the account, or someone with their power of attorney. Hmmmmmm…..

I’m afraid that she’s not going to give me my money back, because of all these “issues” that just happened to come up in the last week (the room was not left “clean” etc.,.) Shouldn’t she have told me that BEFORE giving me my check, instead of just taking it out? Isn’t that sort of illegal (Fraud?) Is there anything I can do about it? What about these godawful insufficient funds fees and late fees? Has this ever happened to anyone else?

Hope the fellow Consumerist community can help a guy out.


William D.


Edit Your Comment

  1. RandomHookup says:

    “There’s two kinds of landlords: bad and worse.”

    I’ll forgive the bad grammar, but that’s kind of harsh. I’m a landlord and I do a damn good job of taking care of my property (of course, I live there, too, so that makes a difference).

    Not all of us are absentee money grubbers or slimy peeping toms. I can even give you a personal monstrous tenant story that will remind you of the movie Pacific Heights.

    Of course, I’m stealing cable and electricity from my tenants, but they don’t have to know.

  2. Harlan says:

    I have no idea about California, but I do happen to know Illinois law on this. (I acted as a property manager briefly…) In Illinois, you must give the former tenant an itemized list of deductions from the security deposit, including copies of receipts. And you have to return the (possibly reduced) deposit within I think 45 days of the end of the contract period. I think the first thing to check is if there’s a deadline for return of the deposit. If so, and if that time has passed, you should write a letter (or better, have a lawyer friend write a letter) saying that by stopping payment on the check, they have violated the law on returning deposits in a timely manner. They can either pay immediately, and also cover the bank charges for the overdrafts, or they’ll be taken to small-claims court. Good luck…

  3. Ben Popken says:

    Jim writes: I don’t know about SoCal at large, but i know in Los Angeles, if a deposit is not returned within 21 days of your officially leaving the apartment, then the full deposit is owed to you, no matter how thrashed the apartment is.

    However, you may have to take the landlord to small claims court to make it stick, and it might just take another year before it’s resolved.

    -jim p.

  4. RandomHookup says:

    I actually look odd when I’m on the front page, too. Thanks for the edits, Ben. Now off to fix the grammar at NPR.

  5. Harlan says:

    Jim P. writes:
    >However, you may have to take the landlord to small
    >claims court to make it stick, and it might just take
    >another year before it’s resolved.

    Fortunately (?), as in here in NYC, rents/despoits are ridiculously high enough in LA that it’ll be worth your time to sue!

  6. Treved says:

    It sounds like you’re right, but it might not matter. My girlfriend had her landlord refuse to return the deposit, and she took her to court. The court ruled in my gf’s favor, and the landlord appealed. My gf won again. The landlord then refused to pay, so we had to pay for the Sherrif to execute a lien. Well the Sherrif claimed finally that he was never able to serve the landlord. By the time all that happened, the gf became my wife and moved out of state.

    The moral? Even if you win in court, you have to be able to collect. It might not be worth you while to go through all the hassle of courts and sherrifs, and that’s probably what the landlord is counting on.