Bully Landlord Tries To Steal Security Deposit

Sara thought she was being a good tenant. She moved cities and rather than pay the stiff penalties for breaking the lease, she continued to pay rent on the old place. She even turned off the electricity before she left. Ever since she told the old landlord she won’t be renewing the lease, he’s been going all aggro on her on the phone, demanding payments for electricity she didn’t use, insinuating she’s a criminal and is still living there, and generally being a jerk. Sara wants to extricate herself from his clutches but is afraid for her $700 security deposit. What can she do?

Sara writes:

First of all, let me say: You guys have saved me (and my friends/family/coworkers) so much time and effort in your site. Thanks.

I’m trying to figure out how to extricate myself from this awful predicament I have with a former landlord. Here’s the story:

My (now-ex) boyfriend and I moved in together right after graduating college last June into a great little apartment in York, PA. We loved the landlord, and everything was going great. A fantastic price, a nice location, and a landlord that wonderfully straddled the line between “available” and “hovercraft.” However, that landlord sold the property in January, right in the middle of our lease, to a gentleman who has been less than wonderful.

Now, I only ever met him once, and he was distant, uninterested, and just handed me a business card. We always paid our rent on time with the previous landlord, and continued to do so with this new one. However, my boyfriend’s job moved him to Oregon in November 2009, and I got a job in January 2010 in DC, so we both moved out of the apartment. We moved our stuff out, and turned off the electric entirely (since it didnt’ say we couldn’t in the lease). We didn’t end the lease early, since there were some pretty harsh penalties for that, so we kept on paying rent regularly.

Starting in May, both my ex and I started contacting the landlord to confirm with him we were not re-upping our lease, since we obviously weren’t in the area anymore. For two weeks of phone calls and emails–no response. Finally, after googling, I found a phone number. He responded four days later, quite angrily, 1) that we didn’t let him know anything (regardless of the fact that we emailed him at the work email he provided us with on his business card) and 2) that we didn’t need to worry about anything until our lease ran out on June 12. After confirming the address with him, I mailed him the keys First Class Mail (in retrospect, I know this was an issue, but that’s what I could easily access at work) and thought that this would be okay.

I got an email from him today saying that the letter had arrived (9 days later, although the USPS website says all first class mail is delivered in 3-5 days), sealed–but no keys were inside. He also alleges that we owe him electricity for the months when the electricity was turned off (and insinuated that we were actually living there, although both my ex’s and my workplace would be glad to provide proof otherwise).

The gentleman refuses to return my ex’s calls, and has refused to return my calls before (I had called him twice per week since the 12th to double check on all of the details–which I thought was okay and a good idea as a renter!). He has insinuated that we’re criminals and trying to take him for a ride, when in reality it’s quite the opposite. He talks down to me (because apparently, I am a woman, who could not possibly know how to handle this) and has stated plainly that he hasn’t even been to the property since he bought it in January.

Consumerists–What would you do? At this point, I know I’m being taken for a ride by a jerk, and my $700 security deposit is as good as gone. I have a paper trail of all of the days and times I’ve contacted the landlord, but I dont’ know where to go next.

You should have sent the keys by a certified method and if your contract allowed it, sub-leasing could have saved you some money on rent. That said, sounds like this guy is just trying to bulldoze you and scare you. I think requesting the security deposit via certified letter is your next step.

In it, you might want to mention that under PA law, the landlord is required to give you your security deposit back within 30 days of you moving out, less any damages, in which case it must be accompanied by a written list of damages. If h does not return your deposit within 30 days, you can sue him for double the security deposit.

You can easily do this without a lawyer in District Justice Court, known elsewhere as small claims court. All it takes is a filing fee of around $30-$80. Here’s more info on how to do that.

Good luck and stay strong!


Edit Your Comment

  1. tbax929 says:

    I hoep you took photos of the apartment when you moved out. Small claims will be the way to go, but you’ll have to travel back to PA in order to do it.

    My experience with landlords (and even management companies) is hit or miss. I had one really creepy one who I swore was entering my unit when I wasn’t home. I had one who tried to make me move so he could move into my unit, despite my still being in the middle of a lease. I’ve also had awesome ones. It sucks that you had a great landlord who sold to a crappy one.

    • pjorg says:

      I have no tolerance for entering my unit without permission.

      Once I came home sick from work, and proceeded straight to bed with the covers over my head. I heard a knock at the door, but decided that whoever it was could wait until I was feeling better.

      It was my landlord, who proceeded to key into the apartment, walk right next to the bed I was laying in to check on the radiator, and then walk out and lock the door. I was literally so stunned I didn’t even move the whole time.

      I wound up calling him later and making it clear that next time it happened the police would be called.

      • user765 says:

        Sorry pjorg, he has every right to enter the apartment, the police will not do anything

        • Sian says:

          I dunno what state this was in, but in several, the landlord needs to give 24 hours notice before doing something like that.

          • user765 says:

            the law says 24 hours but it is very loosely worded, a landlord can say just about anything to excuse the lack of 24 hours notice. In this case they can say there was an emergency with the radiator.

            • Billy says:

              Saying just about anything to excuse the lack of 24 hours notice is not the same as having every right to enter the apartment.

              • user765 says:

                Ok, I shouldn’t have said they have every right. They do, however, have the ability to enter an apartment at anytime and 99.9% of the time will get away with it.

                • pjorg says:

                  I live in Massachusetts. There needs to be a bona-fide emergency, not “I wanted to check if it was warm.”

                  Not to say that you aren’t right about the police not giving a crap, though it does convey that you are serious about unwanted intrusions.

                  • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

                    I had a landlord dumb enough to write in a letter that she’d stopped by our apartment on a “surprise inspection” and felt our litter box needed changing (it had just been changed, but she was trying to trump up problems because she was afraid I’d sue about a neighbor’s dog breaking my leg…and was totally ignorant of the law).

                    My lawyer loved that letter! You have a right to “quiet enjoyment” of your apartment. Unless the pipes are gushing or the place is on fire, they can’t wander in.

                  • JiminyChristmas says:

                    Minnesota is pretty similar. There must be a real emergency for just cause to enter the apartment with no notice. Any other reason, regular maintenance for example, requires 24 hours.

                    In my specific locale, landlords (or their employees) are subject to a $100 fine for entering without notice – per occurrence. Of course, you do have to file a complaint with the city.

                • jason in boston says:

                  Agreed. The landlord can also be charged with trespassing. This I learned in my 2nd year in business school (some beginner level law classes).

                • Billy says:

                  That’s what court cases and judges are for.

                • mythago says:

                  Not sure what you mean by “get away with it”. If I were representing a tenant in a wrongful eviction case I would do the happy dance if a landlord said “Of course I walked in without checking first, I needed to look at the radiator!”

            • pjorg says:

              As with most issues discussed here, it would be an issue for a court to decide if someone ever decided to sue. Because there’s no way the DA is going to press trespassing charges.

            • bobosgirl says:

              I work part time for a property management firm, and the law is actually pretty clear in our state: 24 hours written notice to enter or face fines in court.

        • Tedicles says:

          When at home, a simply deadbolt usually does the job well enough….when out, well, that’s a different story.

        • dakeypoo says:

          No they don’t. The other thing to consider is…I am armed, and if my landlord enters without permission, and I don’t know who’s bursting into the house, I’m shooting first. I’m protected by Florida’s Castle Doctrine.

          • longdvsn says:

            That’s a state-to-state issue though. PA has no such protections. NC (where I live)…shoot away as they open the door and it’s justified (essentially).

        • Pax says:

          Sorry, user756, that’s not generally true.

          For example, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts … a landlord CANNOT enter the rented premesis unless:

          (a) you give your permission
          (b) the landlord supplied notice, IN WRITING, at least 48 full hours before a REASONABLY SCHEDULED time-of-entry
          (c) there is a maintenance problem which poses a real and imminent threat of damage to the property, or injury to any tenant, landlord employee, or visitor to the building. (for example, a burst pipe)
          (d) in the company of a county sherrif’s deputy, for the purpose of executing a Writ of Eviction that has been signed by a Judge.

          Otherwise? It’s trespassing, and the LANDLORD (or their employee) will be the one getting arrested.

      • Fidget says:

        Oh man. Our maintenance guy does that. Which I’m fine with, he’s nice and his schedule’s pretty hectic, but the day I got back from the airport after tons of flying, just trying to sleep on the couch, apt’s a horrible mess…and it seems like they sent the entire rotation of maintenance people up to “go look at the strung out girl on the couch.”

      • kujospam says:

        If he gives you a few days notice, our usually does it a week ahead of time, he is legally allowed to do so. In fact if you stop him from doing normal maintenance, you can easily just broke your lease. But sounds like he doesn’t give any warning at all in which case, yell at him big time.

      • Wolfbird says:

        Reminds me of this one time I was dyeing my hair and my maintenance guy thought it was okay to shut off my water halfway through without notice. I never did get those panic-caused purple handprints off the bathroom sink or my phone…

    • Raekwon says:

      My last landlord would come in unannounced when I wasn’t home all the time. He would randomly call me and tell me that he stopped by and it looked like I had cleaning to do and stuff like that. It was super creepy and I’m glad I’m out of that place.

      I agree though, get pictures and keep track of absolutely everything happening. The more the better. Small claims is easy and it seems PA law is similar to Utah (where I live) law when it comes to deposits. Most landlords don’t even show and just pay out in the end. Sounds like this guy doesn’t care and will follow that route.

    • sonneillon says:

      I dunno how that flew. A paranoid guy like me would have likely put some lead shot into someone just entering the unit when he thought I wasn’t there.

  2. Commenter24 says:

    The electricity issue might not be too far off. In rentals, many times the electricity reverts back to the owner when the tenant “shuts it off.”. So he very well may have been getting electric bills, though likely small ones, since it was “shut off.” if that’s the case the tenant is probably liable for the bills. As to the security deposit, Ben is probably right re: PA law but the reality is that it may not be worth the fight if you live out-of-state. You could end up having to travel up there multiple times, etc. Is all that trouble really worth it for $350 (assuming each gets 1/2).

    • Rachacha says:

      Agreed that the electricity likely reverted back to the landlord, however as the unit was in PA, and the OP left in January, there was still the issue of heating the place. The furnace would still run or the electric heat would still turn on unless the OP turned off the heating system completely, in which case, she probably would have risked freezing pipes. Same thing with the hot water heater, which is also probably electric. Even though you are not using any hot water, the water heater will remain on and will keep the water warm which uses electricity.

      As the OP was still “renting” the place, she is obligated to pay for any utilities which would likely come out of her security deposit.

      In retrospect, I would have recommended that she told her landlord what she was doing and negotiated with the landlord that if he could re-lease the apartment and break her lease early, she would pay an additional month’s rent (or similar deal), that way, the landlord can find a new tenant while the unit is still rented, and if he can, he will gain financially, and the OP might be able to break her lease early (saving money). Put the correspondence with the rent check so when he cashes the rent check, you know that he received the letter.

      • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

        To that point, I’m not sure I believe that the lease said nothing about having the power kept on. I live in NY, and I’ve NEVER seen a lease that didn’t mention that, and the heat, in copious detail. She should re-read the lease. If, in fact, it was not included, the landlord is fairly foolish.

      • NatalieErin says:

        Assuming this is one apartment in a multi-tenant building, the hot water heater is almost certainly not connected to her meter – it’s shared in common and paid for by the landlord. The heat may also be gas, not electric.

    • MrEvil says:

      I don’t know how apartments do it in PA. But Apartments I’ve seen where electric isn’t included have separate meter boxes for each unit. The Power company comes out and throws the disconnect thus not allowing any juice to flow into the unit.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      and quite honestly. depending on the appliances, if the electricity was shut off and the fridge wasn’t left wedged open, there may be a hefty cleaning fee for the fridge. a closed fridge stored without power on can grow some really funky stuff from the moisture trapped in it

    • Difdi says:

      In my apartment (Washington state), everything from the heat to the stove to the water heater is electrical, and it all goes to a circuit breaker box just inside the door of the apartment. If I throw the main breaker, that cuts off everything.

      I’d LOVE to see my landlord try claiming I owed electric bills after moving out…

  3. harrier666 says:

    If you have a lawyer friend to write the suggested certified letter on legal letterhead,that almost always works. You don’t necessarily want to threaten legal action, but letterhead from a law office that has the same contents your letter would carries a significant power.

  4. Tim says:

    I know this isn’t what she’s asking about, but what was the penalty for ending the lease early? In my experience, it’s been, at most, two months rent, which is a lot less than rent from January to June. Is the penalty more than six months’ rent? Come to think of it, some states have laws as to how high the penalty for breaking a lease is. Might want to look into that.

    • godai says:

      My current lease requires me to pay out the monthly rent until they rent it out again. (or until the end of the lease).

      Of course if i wanted to pay an extra $75/month I could of gotten a rider in case I bought a house or got a job more than a certain distance away (75 for either, 150 for both)

      Rather annoying.

      Oh i’m in Ohio.

      • JamieSueAustin says:

        What? I’ve lived in Ohio for years in all sorts of different apartments (sole owner, mega complexes, etc) and I’ve never seen that kind of garbage in a lease.

        • PupJet says:

          I live in OH now and rent and that wasn’t in our lease. LOL I don’t know what garbage they’re spewing out either unless they live in the middle of nowhere, which is more than likely

    • tbax929 says:

      I think that’s pretty standard in complexes, but her rental was a privately-owned unit. The landlord has to mitigate his damages and advertise for a new tenant, but just breaking the lease for two-months’ rent was probably not an option.

    • sarahhope82 says:

      My understanding is that arbitary penalties are illegal. The landlord is entitled to collect what his actual losses are for the remainder of the lease term. So if the unit was not rerented, and there were six months left in the lease, the landlord is entitled to six months rent. The landlord does have a duty to try to find a new tenant, but it does not sound like Sara notified the landlord they moved out until the end of the lease term.

    • ghostberry says:

      Im equally confused why she kept paying the rent?

  5. qwickone says:

    The keys could have gotten squeezed out of the envelope at the USPS processing center, so you’ll prob have to cough up for that. Other than that, send a letter, like Ben suggested, indicating that you know what you’re rights are. If you didn’t take pics before you moved out, though, I think you’re SOL if he tries to keep your deposit.

    • jessjj347 says:

      I have an off-topic question about this.

      What happens if the landlord never provided a form to list damages on when a tenant moved in? When moving out, is that tenant SOL to get the security deposit back ?

      • Dover says:

        No, but you’re at a disadvantage if you didn’t document it because it becomes your word against the landlord’s.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        as someone who has moved a whole lot of times, i learned that when renting from a private owner, take a camera and take pictures of everything, or even better, do a video walkthrough with the landlord and make sure their voice/image is captured in the video. later when they say “that spot wasn’t there” you can say “i have video of you pointing to that spot on the floor the day before i moved in”

    • coren says:

      While what you say is definitely possible, he said the letter was still sealed, which leads me to believe that this was not the case.

    • thesadtomato says:

      Not necessarily. In MA, for example, where a landlord tried to dick me out of my deposit, and where you’re entitled to *triple* damages if they judge finds in your favor, the landlord is required by law to place the security deposit in a separate interest-bearing account. At the end of your lease, they repay you your deposit with whatever interest. If he doesn’t do that, his end of the bargain hasn’t been kept, and no matter what else has happened, if you can prove that, you’re probably going to win.

  6. jessjj347 says:

    Turning “off the electricity” would mean that the landlord would start receiving bills for the residence. So, technically, Sara does owe him/her money because there would still be money owed that Sara probably agreed in your lease to pay (usually there is a clause on which bills you are responsible for). There would still be money owed to the electric company because there are always fees, plus there could be security lights, the fridge and other appliances, etc which probably did not get unplugged.

    I mean, sure this landlord might be a jerk, but he has rights too. If he didn’t visit the property for a while, he’s just taking your word at this point that you vacated. I would say that you should have notified him before vacating and notified him that you wanted to shut off the electricity. Those seem like big things to do without notifying him, so I can see from his perspective why he is so suspicious and/or angry.

    Sara only mentions trying to contact the landlord when wanting to terminate the lease. She doesn’t mention trying to contact him about her situation before that in regards to leaving and shutting off the electricity. I just think that’s too late, whether he responded or not.

    • swat1227 says:

      Actually.. Hi. I’m the one. I sent him emails when both my ex vacated in November, and again when I vacated in January. (He alleges he doesn’t use “that internet stuff” although he gave us an email address, and has since emailed us today to tell us our keys weren’t there.) We checked the lease (we paid for electricity/cable/internet, but the landlord paid all other utilities) and it said nothing about not being able to turn off the electricity upon leaving, since I took everything with me that could have been plugged in, and unplugged the refrigerator upon leaving (after carefully defrosting it, of course). My ex sent the landlord an email and called him when he shut off the power–just so he knew, but of course we never got a response from either.

      The landlord owns about 20 properties in the area, but all of the checks go to his mother. When I went to send him the keys, I double checked that the address was the same as the one we sent our rent checks to. His response: “Oh, no one lives there… just send them here, to my business.”

      If he handed us a business card with email listed as contact information, wouldn’t it be in the realm of logic to assume he was available by email? And/or that the phone listed on his card would be the one he would answer? However, neither of these are true.

      I agree with you that landlords also have rights, but I think for the over 25 times my ex and I have tried to contact our landlord in a very civil manner (in all honesty, we were hoping to get it figured out early so he could get the place rented out right again), and he’s responded to us alternatively like children, and like criminals.

      • user765 says:

        To be honest, you should have sent all of this certified, not email. However, you still have a great chance of winning in small claims court, and I would definitely consider that the number one option at this point.

      • jessjj347 says:

        If he didn’t respond, I really wouldn’t assume that he got the emails or knew. Sure, he gave you that email address and phone number and is being unprofessional. I just would never have personally done the things you did without making sure the landlord knew first (as in got the okay not just a nonresponse).

        I understand too, however, that you tried to contact him multiple times with the contact info he provided. So I don’t know…I guess it’s up to a judge if you decide to go to small claims court.

        In my opinion, he still was getting billed for electricity. I don’t think it’s possible to get a “zero” bill.

      • ghostberry says:

        Probably the most bizarre part of your complaint is that you both moved out of state, shut off the utilities, but kept the keys until the end of the lease, if im understanding correctly, then mailed them? Why would you do that? That`s 6 months after you stated you moved away.

        • JamieSueAustin says:

          Why wouldn’t you? Giving the keys back is what you do when you break the lease. They were still paying for the apartment. If they moved out of state mailing the keys makes the most sense. Though I would have sent them certified.

      • BeFrugalNotCheap says:

        Request..Please try to update us on what happens. There have been some stories on the Consumerist that seem to never get resolved, or we are never told. Thanks. And good luck.

    • coren says:

      If he didn’t visit the property for a while, then he probably wasn’t doing his job right.

      As for owing him for electricity, if they turned it off, then nothing is getting electricity. I didn’t get the impression that this was prefurnished so most electricity drawing appliances (if not all) would have been removed. Plus, the way this is worded leads me to believe that the electricity was paid by the tenants directly. I say this because if it wasn’t, then for six months this landlord was getting billed for electricity and making no effort whatsoever to contact them (as if he was, he quickly would have discovered the apartment vacated, or spoken with them before late May) and given how…helpful he’s being now this seems highly unlikely.

      • jessjj347 says:

        The electricity bills probably were delivered to the residence that was vacant, so the landlord may not have known about them.

        I don’t know if I’m just playing Devil’s advocate. But it just seems like both parties did things that may be violating the lease.

        • coren says:

          Possible. But a thought occurs to me. If I don’t pay *my* electric bill, they shut off my electricity. Now, aside from any late charges or non payment charges I may accrue, I don’t think I get charged anything additional for not currently having electricity. I wonder why it might be different (if it is) when I request it be shut off instead?

          • jessjj347 says:

            It’s only different in this case because “shutting off” equals putting the bills back in the landlord’s name.

            I understand your logic though. Why is that you can become delinquent in paying a bill and then not owe anything once it’s shut off? I would assume it’s because they are literally shutting the flow of electricity off to the residence. I have no idea though.

            • coren says:

              Yeah, I would figure that if I say “No power please” and that’d be that. I wonder if they just eat whatever “cost” there is to keep the line connected for deadbeats or shut it off more fully?

              Either way, they shouldn’t just go bill someone else (and for that matter, would they know?) when the OP asked for no more electric. A connect fee or whatever piling up I could at least understand.

      • theart says:

        The thing is, the electric company still charges a daily access fee even if you aren’t using any electricity. It’s only $10-20 per month, but if somebody stuck me with that and didn’t say anything about moving out until four months later I’d be pissed too.

        In terms of getting the security deposit back, there has to be some kind of local housing authority in York. These agencies tend to be very pro-tenant, and the mere suggestion that you’re going to file a complaint will get most landlords’ attention. Particularly if they own multiple properties.

        • coren says:

          I wasn’t aware of that. But it strikes me as odd – if they cut off my power for non payment, they wouldn’t charge me an extra fee for not using their power then. Why is it different if it’s by my request?

    • maztec says:

      Or it could mean she flipped off the main …

  7. BuyerOfGoods3 says:

    I vote Small Claims court. My former landlord in Buda, TX has been withholding our previous security deposit since we moved out in February…Yeah, It’s July.

    After multiple Certified Demand Letters and such, we finally got the court paperwork and sent her a copy (as required my law). That did it.

    They’re just betting you wont actually take action. Do so, and they’re likely to pay.

  8. pgh9fan1 says:

    I believe, but I’m not 100% certain, that PA law requires that the landlord send you a check for the security deposit–minus any itemized deductions for damages and the like–within 30 days of the end of the lease. After 30 days you have the right to sue for double your money back and the landlord can no longer claim any deductions. You’d have to go back to PA to sue, but for $1400 I would. You could check into this.

  9. LoadStar says:

    Not only should you have sent the keys certified (or at the very least a trackable courier like FedEx/UPS) but the non-renewal of lease should also have been sent certified. Never send anything via email that you need to guarantee was delivered.

    Also, the USPS website states that First Class Mail is “usually” delivered in 2-3 days. They specifically point out that delivery times are NOT guaranteed with First Class Mail, and I don’t see any reference anywhere that says “all” first class mail is delivered in “3-5 days.”

    • AnthonyC says:

      “Never send anything via email that you need to guarantee was delivered.”

      That’s interesting. When I send an e-mail, it saves a copy on my end, timestamped with when I sent it. Then, if delivery fails, I get a notification saying that was the case. I can also look back and demonstrate that the intended recipient has used the same e-mail address both before and after I sent that message, or that he or she gave me that particular e-mail address as part of his or her contact info. Is there some special legal protection granted to me by virtue of having used the USPS?

      • user765 says:

        In my experience, most judges do not consider this enough proof of proper notification. some judges even ignore email all together

      • whogots is "not computer knowledgeable" says:

        Internet jockey here: The delivery failure notifications are configurable by the administrator. You usually do get a bounce message if you try to send something to an unknown or unreachable domain. However, delivery failures for unknown users are frequently withheld, for a couple of different reasons that I’ll assume are not interesting to most folks.

        Basically, lack of an error message does not imply success. This is, by the way, applicable to many life situations, not just electronic communications.

        Also? If someone is randomly being a jerk about smallish amounts of money, there’s a fair chance that the email address on his business card is no good anymore.

  10. user765 says:

    “In it, you might want to mention that under PA law, the landlord is required to give you your security deposit back within 30 days of you moving out, less any damages, in which case it must be accompanied by a written list of damages. If h does not return your deposit within 30 days, you can sue him for double the security deposit”

    It’s is technically 30 days from the lease ending date, not move out date.

    The electric bills are technically the resident’s responsibility until the end of the lease, but I am sure they are less than the security deposit.

    If it has been 30 days from lease ending, you can sue the landlord for twice your security, I would do that, it is pretty easy to win those cases.

    Is the electric company PPL?

  11. Thyme for an edit button says:

    I don’t know if I would request the deposit, or just wait to see what he does. Check out the landlord-tenant laws in your state, but where I live, they have a certain # of days to send you the deposit or send you the documentation of the repairs of cleaning they had to do.

    If the landlord does not do either of those things within the required time period, then he or she owes you the deposit back regardless of the damage.

    If PA’s laws are similar, perhaps wait for the 30 days to pass and if he has send you nothing, THEN send a demand letter. If he doesn’t pony up, see about small claims court.

    • coren says:

      Yeah, this. Don’t force his hand, wait out the time period that way he has no choice, legally.

  12. Dover says:

    Too late for this now, of course, but I would’ve subtracted $700 from the last rent payment. He might huff and puff at you but, if you left the place in good condition, he’d probably just let it go. Small claims would be a great option, except that you now live far away. Perhaps you have a friend nearby that can give power of attorney to in exchange for a cut of the proceeds?

    • user765 says:

      most likely the lease says security deposit cannot be used as a rent payment. If they had done that, it would have been much, much worse. The landlord would probably file on them for the month’s rent, adding in court costs attorney fees, warrant of removal and possibly even lock out charges.

      • Dover says:

        I guess it depends on the state. In many places where I’ve lived, the landlord can deduct unpaid rent from the security deposit and I have taken advantage of this once when I was concerned about whether or not they would return the deposit. Of course, the tenant would still be on the hook for any damages, which is why I specified the condition of the apartment.

        • Dover says:

          This is the case in PA, the security deposit can be used for unpaid rent:


          • user765 says:

            Yes, but that is after the lease ends.

            since the lease was still current the landlord cannot touch the security deposit. since you paid less than the rent they will file on you and charge you a ton of penalties, ie court costs, attorney fees, lock out fees, etc.

            • Dover says:

              This *is* after the lease ends. If she tells the landlord that she’s left the apartment and will not be renewing and sends the rest of the rent minus the $700 security deposit, what’s the landlord going to do? Start looking for another tenant, of course.

              He *could* think about starting eviction proceedings, but that would be silly since she’s already vacated and returned the keys. Plus, he probably has to give her a 30-day notice of eviction before starting any proceedings, by which time, the lease is up. Since there is no material deprivation (assuming no damage to the apartment), he’d have a pretty tough time in court.

              • user765 says:

                Well, obviously it depends on the landlord, but this landlord seems like someone who would do what I am saying.

                The lease does not end once the keys are handed in and the tenant moves out, the lease ends when the lease date ends. So in this case they would still owe $700 while the lease is current. The landlord can start the eviction process, tack on fees, and either dismiss the case or enter default. Regardless these additional fees are tacked on, and now when the landlord does the move out process they will have arrears over $700, leaving a balance on the account after the security is removed.

          • jessjj347 says:

            Also, the lease might say that you are not allowed to use it, even if in PA.

  13. RandomHookup says:

    You scared me…I’m a landlord (only one unit though) and my tenant Sarah looks just like that picture. I was afraid I had ticked her off.

  14. backinpgh says:

    Learn how to do things in WRITING. You should have sent WRITTEN notice of your intent to not renew the lease. You should have sent WRITTEN notice that you were vacating the apartment but would continue to pay the rent.

    That said, just wait the thirty days then send a demand letter, then file suit if need be. Then brush up on landlord-tenant law in your new city so you don’t get yourself into a mess like this again.

    • swat1227 says:

      Emails don’t count as written intent?

      • user765 says:

        It really depends on the judge

      • scurvycapn says:

        People usually want a signature with things. I just purchased a house and had to give my 30 day notice recently. I usually go with a simple typed letter such as:

        To whom it may concern,

        I, my name, will be vacating the property at 123 Fake St. on June 30, 2010. This letter is to serve as my 30 day notice. My forwarding address is 456 New St., Awesometown, OH 12345.


        My name

        It’s short, sweet, and paints the picture clear as day. Since I stayed in the area I also delivered it by hand.

    • user765 says:

      Writing and Certified Mail are sooooo important when it comes to landlord-tenant anything.

      I can’t tell you how many times I have seen landlords and tenants in court have problems because their agreement was verbal, or a request was not sent certified.

      I have a 6 inch stack of certified cards on my desk at all times.

  15. Skeptic says:

    I got a former landlady’s bank account seized for this kind of behavior. Not only did I get my deposit back, I got to chortle about all the checks she bounced before she understood where her money had gone.

    That said, are you sure the utility companies completely terminated service to the apt? Some charge a monthly service fee even when you’re not using power, gas, water, etc. How did you keep the apt from freezing with all the utilities turned off?

    • PerpetualStudent says:

      If it is a multiple apartment building, they probably didn’t kill the line in – they usually just switch the breakers and either restart the meter or log the final numbers before closing the account.

      Its likely that the landlord has been receiving bills for the apartment – but these should be relatively small. Usually the tenant is on the hook for this – had a similar issue with student housing.

      Hopefully there were no squatters running up the electric bill. If there were, the landlord could take it out of the deposit and go after her for any extra. OP would have to go after the squatters.

  16. femiwhat says:

    The lesser-known aspect of PA law is that if you sue successfully, the landlord isn’t required to pay you until he sells the property.

    • user765 says:

      I have owned residential property in PA for over 30 years and never heard of this. Can you link to some evidence.

      Not saying I don’t believe you…just find it interesting

      • shangyle says:

        My guess is this is referring to a lien. Liens don’t mean much unless you are trying to transfer the deed to a new owner or take out a loan against the property.

        Downside of court is even if you get a judgment, it’s very difficult to compel them to pay the judgment. Especially if they don’t care about their credit score.

        • femiwhat says:

          I live in Pennsylvania, and a landlord screwed us out of a security deposit. We consulted a lawyer, and that was the gist of it… There was no point in bringing suit because we’d never see the money. Maybe the real explanation is that the award is generally given as a lien on the property, etc. All I know is that we didn’t sue and they kept $1400 of our money. :-/

  17. veritybrown says:

    You might want to investigate this guy, if you can afford to do so. If he is harassing you illegally, chances are that he’s a crook and you’re not the only victim. We had a bad landlord once–famed for being a bad landlord, but he held a virtual monopoly on the rental properties in town (which is how we ended up renting from him), and the local judges were in his pocket, so he got away with illegally withholding security deposits from tenants for a long time. Eventually, though, he was convicted on federal charges for insurance fraud. Karma’s a b!tch.

  18. Happy Tinfoil Cat says:

    Stealing the security deposit is standard procedure for many landlords. They know how much od a hassle it is for you to get your money. Throw a party there. Raise your $700 by charging people $5 per whack with a sledge hammer.

  19. usernameandp says:

    Try the PA Attorney General:


    It worked for me. Got my money back, once I got them involved.

  20. mac-phisto says:

    if you are a renter, this story is a great reminder that you should 1) know what your lease states & 2) know your state laws in regards to renting. your rights differ greatly from state-to-state, so it’s important to know what you can & can’t do in relation to your state.

    i almost got hammered a couple years back by not knowing enough about the law. i initially signed a 2-year lease & then stayed in the apartment for about 6 years. i was under the impression that after my lease expired, it reverted to a month-to-month lease. WRONG! my lease auto-renewed every year on the anniversary & i could only escape it if i notified the landlord 60-days prior to the lease renewal.

    so, here i was, the proud new owner of a house being told that i would be on the hook for rent for 8-months unless my landlord found a new renter. lucky me, he did. but i was real close to being totally screwed there.

    & DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. don’t just take pictures when you move out, take them when you move in. all communications should be in writing (preferably sent CMRRR). don’t assume the landlord knows the law – remind him in your writing (“i’m moving out, don’t forget that state law requires you to return my deposit within 30 days pursuant to this statute…”). if all else fails, seek recourse.

    • Dover says:

      “…if all else fails, seek recourse.”

      And don’t be afraid to do this. I have a couple of friends who just gave up trying to get their deposits back. I once had to sue my old landlord, it was really easy, and I got more than twice what he owed me plus embarrassed him in court.

      • mac-phisto says:

        DEFINITELY. not all landlords are scumbags, but there are a number of them out there that use your ignorance of the law for profit. they won’t do anything until you remind them of their responsibility under the law. as usual, educating yourself is the best defense against crappy landlords.

    • jessjj347 says:

      Where did you find information regarding state law and renting? I found a tenant-landlord law, but is that all that exists? It didn’t answer the question that I still have…

  21. LightningUsagi says:

    I’m curious as to whether or not they talked to the landlord before vacating the property. It almost sounds like they just quietly slipped out without him knowing. It seems like it would have been best to discuss something like this with the landlord, especially the issue of turning off utilities.

    I wonder if this whole mess could have been avoided by a simple conversation when it was confimed that both of you would have been leaving.

    • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

      Sounds like it. They could have also asked him to try to find a new tenant and let them out of their lease early if he did, with the caveat that they’d keep paying if he didn’t. What did they have to lose?

    • ghostberry says:

      At best a lot of weird judgement calls, at worst some omissions or rearranging the facs. This sounds like what people do when they move out on a lease and DONT pay or arrange someone else to take it over.

  22. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    The leases I have signed have occupancy requirements. A vacant unit invites squatters, vandals, unexpected pipe breaks that don’t get discovered in a timely manner, etc.

    Most houses and apartments will deteriorate quite rapidly when unoccupied for reasons I don’t understand.

    I would expect the electricity reverted to the landlord when the disconnect notice was in place. I know that is very common for apartments. Unless you went back and flipped light switches and confirmed there was no power I would have to side with the landlord.

    If I were the landlord I would be livid too.

    • Thyme for an edit button says:

      That’s a good point.

      OP better check her lease on whether occupancy was a condition of the lease. She may have breached her contract back when they moved out and it makes me wonder if LL can sue her for the breach (sounds like there was some kind of liquidated damages provision in the lease.)

      If that is the case, she may not want to push her luck on this.

    • PerpetualStudent says:

      Most leases have a clause that states the renter is responsible for all damages to the apartment during the term of the lease (barring those out of renter’s control). If OP moved without telling the landlord, the OP will probably be held responsible for any bills or damages that were caused by squatters or in-attention – probably even if there isn’t an occupancy clause.

      I live in student housing in CA and they just sent a notice out reminding that damages caused by subleasers, squatters, or general disrepair of the apartment during the summer would be assessed against the lease holder.

      Out here they do not turn off the power to the apartment if it is one of a complex – they usually switch the breakers and reset or log the final value on the meter to close the account. There is usually a minimal service charge and if appliances are left plugged in, minor usage. I had a similar issue with my student housing office when I moved in – they wanted me to pay for the charges run up in the interim between the time I moved in and the last tenant moved out.

  23. GotTomTom says:

    You may want to double check this, but I believe that if you file a case with Small Claims Court, that you have a choice of where you file the claim. I believe you should be able to file the claim in either Oregon or DC since that is your current residence, and this is simply a business matter with a party in another state.

    My suggestion is to file the case in Oregon or DC so that he is forced to either pay the entire amount and not fight the case, hire representation in your county, or travel himself to fight the case. My guess is that he won’t want to fight it and will most likely pay you in full. Easy. done.

  24. erratapage says:

    I would not remind the landlord of the law. Just let the landlord comply or not. If he doesn’t comply, you will get your security deposit back, and possibly get double damages. Call the electric company and find out what happened with the electric, so you know whether his claim is valid.

  25. mythago says:

    Can’t give you legal advice because I don’t practice in PA, but here’s what I would tell you to do if you were in CA, and some of it may carry over:

    – find out if there is a local tenants’ union, tenant-rights groups or division of your county bar association that can give you advice. Especially if your income is under a certain level, you may be able to get anything from free advice to a free lawyer. (You can also check nolo.com for resources)

    – keep all communications with your landlord in writing from now on. It’s much harder for the LL to lie if what he said is in writing. Do not threaten, tell him you are going to sue his ass off, etc. If you have gotten the aforementioned legal help or advice, you would want to write a letter informed by that, explaining that you have met all your obligations under the lease, have paid timely, returned the keys and the reasons you are entitled to an immediate refund of your security deposit. (Again, I don’t know what the law is where you lived. Where I live, if a LL screws around and doesn’t send you an itemized, receipt-ized list with the balance of your security deposit within 21 days, they may have to forfeit all of it.)

    – DO NOT ASSUME YOUR SECURITY DEPOSIT IS “AS GOOD AS GONE”. Shady landlords absolutely count on people taking this attitude. I cannot tell you how many times I have had a friend tell me they moved and their landlord is screwing them out of their security deposit and meh, what can they do. I tell them “write your landlord a letter, here is what to say” and, hey presto, they suddenly get a check in the mail! Bad landlords will rip off people they think don’t know any better, but are often big fat cowards when they learn you will push back.

  26. peebozi says:

    She owes the money. the business told the consumer what they want and that should be that. this is how the free market works. If she would like to protest i suggest she not rent from this company/person again and he will feel it in way of lost income from her…just like people can do with verizon, comcast, etc….don’t like how they’re treating you? switch carriers and make Comcast feel the pain of losing .0000000000000034% of their monthly revenue!!!!

    • mythago says:

      Okay, nice statement of libertarian philosophy, silly as a real solution. She was never going to rent from him again anyway, so what loss would he actually “feel”?

    • ghostberry says:

      Wow put the bong down! How is she hurting him with loss of income by not renting again when she doesnt even live in the area?

  27. RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

    I can’t say this enough. My landlord nightmare was solved with one letter from an attorney. We had a landlord who’s notorious in my town for not returning deposits and for generally being jerks. (I shouldn’t have rented from them, but I was new in town and didn’t know until it was too late.)

    Long story short, lots of stuff happened, accusations from landlord. Went to an attorney, paid him $140 to get him to write a letter. In it he stated that we would like our lease ended early (which wouldn’t apply here, but could be replaced with a demand to drop the electric bill). He added at the end that he assumed that, pursuant to state and local laws, he assumed that our deposit would be returned unless the landlord could prove there was a good reason not to.

    Long story short, it was a bluff since we would have never gone to court, and it worked.

    $140 out, but we got out of our lease early (again, I know that’s not relevant here) and got our deposit back.

  28. Big Ant says:

    When the landlord changed should have just did what this person I know did. He had a contract with x, it was acquired by y, who he didn’t want anything to do with. He simply said that the new ownership was to much of a change in contract to him and notified them and got out of the contract.

    Don’t know if this would legally apply in the landlord case but it did for him.

  29. Hi_Hello says:

    tenant made soo many bad moves… find a lawyer.

  30. keith4298 says:

    IANAL but, NY and NJ both have statutes that require landlords to give notice within a short amount of time after signing a lease of the exact location your security deposit is being held (including account number, address of bank, etc….). The reason is so that the tennant can check that they aren’t using the security money for nefarious purposes.

    In many places, if they don’t provide the notice (which I’ve never received at ANY apt. I’ve rented), you can legally use your security deposit as rent.

    It’s a nice way to make sure to get your money back. You’ll still be responsible for damages – but the landlord coming after you is always better than fighting over your deposit.
    In NJ: http://www.rentlaw.com/dep/njdeposit.htm

    Your security deposit as rent : The law also says that if the landlord does not put the security money in a proper bank account, or does not give a proper written notice to the tenant every time the law provides for, then the tenant can give a written notice to the landlord telling the landlord to use the whole deposit interest per year to pay the tenant’s rent.

    All notices should be sent to the landlord by certified mail, return receipt requested, and you should keep a copy.
    The money can be used to pay future rent or any back rent the tenant owes. Once a tenant legally tells the landlord to use the security deposit as rent, the landlord can’t ask the tenant for another deposit as long as the tenant lives in the apartment or house.

  31. Clyde Barrow says:

    Sara can move in my place. =)

  32. BobOblah says:

    I’m in collections and I’ve seen this a LOT. And I’ve even gone so far as to help ex-tenants who’ve gotten screwed over by slumlords get either the whole claim wiped out, or at least a fair reduction to even getting refunds.
    Stick to your guns, and send all correspondence by registered mail. Call the local landlord & tenant board, they’ll usually advocate for you.
    You may be out of luck after all, but you’ll have learned a good lesson for the future: leave a paper trail!

  33. JonBoy470 says:

    Personally, when I hand over a security deposit, I consider that money lost forever, and dead to me…

    It’s $700, split two ways. Taking the OP at her word that there was no clause in the lease prohibiting the “shutting off the electricity” the net effect would have been to have the electric bill revert to the landlord. If the lease stipulates that you are responsible for the electric bill, the landlord could make that stick in court, which means you’d have to pay the bill. Unless you have pictures of the place taken when you moved out, it’ll be your word against his with regard to the security deposit. I have every confidence there will be “damage” to the apartment not attributable to normal wear and tear.

    Add to this the fact that you now live 90 miles from York PA, and your ex lives across the country. It’ll cost more to travel back there than you’ll actually net, after the deductions for the electricity and damage are taken out of the $700.

  34. elliemae says:

    File a claim in small claims, bring your phone and email records that prove you contacted him. Let him prove the electricity thing – and go for damages as well. I don’t believe that you were under any obligation to renew the lease after the rental period was up and that he’s wrong in the way that he responded.

  35. JiminyChristmas says:

    Having been stiffed on a security deposit once and sued for it in housing court, my experience/advice is:

    1. Don’t send a letter requesting the deposit and telling the landlord about 30 days, double damages, etc. Wait until the lease expires, the 30 days pass, and see what happens. Make damned sure he can’t claim to not have your forwarding address.

    2. If the landlord doesn’t handle your deposit in compliance with the law: just keeps it and blows you off, keeps all or part and doesn’t provide itemized damages, then lay the rental laws on him. State -by certified letter- that you want your deposit back or you will sue him for the deposit + damages.

    3. If the landlord is a sleazeball rather than a clown he will send you a list of bogus or inflated damages to justify keeping your money. In this case, going to court and convincing a judge the landlord wasn’t entitled to the money is the only way you are getting it back.

    4. About housing court…this is a consumer-oriented site so people are quick to say go to court!, as if that’s where wrongs are righted and tenants get their problems taken care of. That’s not what housing court is for. The court is there for landlords first, and tenants second.

    As it should be, all you hear on Consumerist is about bad landlords. In reality, most of the housing court caseload is landlords filing entirely justified eviction actions against tenants who don’t pay their rent or otherwise break their lease. When the judge in housing court looks across the bench the overwhelming majority of scumbags he sees are tenants.

    This day-in day-out experience with bad tenants informs all of the judge’s decisions regardless of whether the plaintiff is a tenant or a landlord. Ergo, if you are a tenant/plaintiff you had better have an ironclad case: photos, certified letters, signed documents, everything…and you had better be in crystal clear compliance with the terms of your lease. Unless the landlord is already known to the court as a bad actor, anything that comes down to your word against theirs is likely to be weighed in favor of the landlord.

    If you still decide to sue, the best outcome to be hoped for is that your landlord gets the summons, decides going to court isn’t worth it to him, and then offers your deposit back. The summons can be an eye-opener. If this happens, accept the return of the deposit, write off your filing fee, and move on. Even though you may feel you have a good case for additional damages it is absolutely not worth taking it on to court.

    • tatatoothy says:

      If you could afford to pay the rent for months after moving somewhere else, it probly won’t kill you to just eat that $700 loss to be done with the situation. While it would suck to give in to a asshole landlord, this sounds like it will be a time vortex that will just give you some gray hairs and shave a few years off your life.

  36. Astrid says:

    I don’t know if anyone else has said this but before you go running to a lawyer or small claims court call a real estate agent! The laws are different in each state but all tenants have rights. A licensed real estate agent will know what your rights are along with what a landlord can do and what they are required to do.

    You don’t have to worry that they’ll charge you money for helping you. Just, if they do help, keep them in mind if you know someone looking for an agent in the future.

  37. tatatoothy says:

    If you could afford to pay the rent for months after moving somewhere else, it probly won’t kill you to just eat that $700 loss to be done with the situation. While it would suck to give in to a asshole landlord, this sounds like it will be a time vortex that will just give you some gray hairs and shave a few years off your life.

  38. EcPercy says:

    Another lesson learned… Sometimes it’s just cheaper to break the lease. It would make sense if one of you were staying in the same town, but you both moved to another state. You guys should have broken the lease before leaving the area.

    What was the penalty for breaking the lease? An extra month of rent? Two months rent? That’s still cheaper than paying the rent for an additional 6 months and you wouldn’t have this problem right now…..

    If you did shut off the electricity before you left and the landlord started getting bills for it then you need to have him produce copies of the bills. If he refuses to do that then you should think about whether or not it’s worth it to get a lawyer.

    Lawyers fees for this could easily run thousand(s) of dollars. It may be better to just let the $700 go and be done with it. Why fight so hard for the $700 when you can make that money back?? If the landlord is willing to deduct the electricity bills for the 6 months and pay you the rest of the deposit you should seriously consider that option.

    The other people saying write the attorney general. I don’t see a point. It’s pretty much standard in a lease agreement that you will keep the utilities in your name for the duration of the lease so the power bill is your responsibility even if you had it taken out of your name.

    I would take the path of least resistance here. Pay the money you owe for the power bills out of the deposit and get out of the lease. Try to get some of your deposit back, but don’t count on it.

  39. WickedCrispy says:

    Me and two pals that got an apartment had a landlord that tried to charge us for the security deposit twice. She claimed our deposit was stolen when their courier got “hijacked” on the way to the bank, and that she had no financial records of any such transactions, but how could we have received the keys and moved in without putting up the deposit, right? We called shenanigans and gave her the finger. So, she either didn’t file the paperwork correctly and tried to weasel out of it, or it was an inside scam because it turned out she knew the people involved on a personal level. Either way, living there was really really (sarcasm) fun. We got threatened with eviction notices and all sorts of fun stuff.

  40. noel says:

    For future information, and for others who might struggle with this, there is a PA law ( it exists in other states, but I know for a fact it exists in PA, since I had to do this), which states that if you are moving out of state, you are allowed to break a yearly lease. I was in a nightmare scenario with a landlord who repeatedly ( 8 times in 45 days) came into my apartment under the guise of “emergencies” ( like checking the fire extinguisher 3 times). I was able to get out of my lease by getting a lawyer who advised me of this law, and moving just over the state border.

    As others have states, he had 30 days to pony up a letter with the reasons for not returning your security deposit, but if you are ever in a situation where you have to get out of a lease, talk to a lawyer and find out if there is a ” move out of state” option in your state.

    So, as it ends up the poster was not required to pay all of those months of rent!

  41. BeFrugalNotCheap says:

    What’s the landlords number? I’d love to be able to call them and speak to them for you. :)

  42. Pax says:

    (Disclaimer: I am not an attorney.)

    I have three words for Sara:




    More words for her: A legal aid society can provide you with free representation. You may even be able to handle the entire issue over the telephone.

    A tenant should never, ever, EVER trust a landlord. Just like a landlord should never,e ver, EVER trust a tenant. It’s just safer for BOTH parties to maintain an air of polite, civil _distrust_.

  43. stlbud says:

    Years ago there was a story about a similar experience. A law student vacated an apartment in good condition and asked for his deposit. The landlord laughed. The guy sent a certified demand letter and the landlord laughed. The guy filed complaints in small claims court, the landlord didn’t appear. The guy got a default judgment. He put a lien on the building but still no response. He then filed for foreclosure, the landlord still didn’t respond. The guy finally auctioned the apartment building off, he bought it himself for $500 and now owns the building. Now who’s laughing?

  44. mweaver_52 says:

    I’m sorry to say, but if your lease said you were to pay for the utilities which you had placed in your name and by your own admission you had them turned off when you left, you are financially responsible for the utilities until the lease ends not when you left and he can take from your deposit money to pay for the utilities only during the time your lease was still enforce. Turning off utilities in the dead of winter as you stated you moved out in January, could have caused pipes to freeze up and numerous issues with the place. You are responsible for all cost of your rental until the last day of your lease. Most utility companies automatically place utilities back in the owners names so damage will not occur to the property. If you go on vacation, you still are responsible for utilities are you not?, so as long as you had possession of the keys and continued to pay rent and you did not send your notice to end your lease by Certified Mail, then, you did not follow the terms of your lease whether you were there or not, you still were in possession per your lease of the property and responsible for the cost to operate that lease. Sorry, but your innocent picture is a bit much and you are trying to reflect perhaps you did not have the knowledge of understanding your lease. I would review your lease with an attorney in NY and I’m pretty sure he will tell you the same thing I am, you have to pay for all expenses of your apartment while the lease was in force. I doubt you will see a deposit back if the cost of the utilities exceeded your deposit amount for 6 months. I’ve manage properties for 20 years and unfortunately, you owe the utilities till the last day of your lease and possibly any hook up fees back in the owners name and late fees for not paying the utilities owed as billed and was obviously covered by the owner.