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!