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How To Get A Security Deposit Back From An Unscrupulous Landlord

November 06, 2007 By Michelle in Miscellaneous  | 19 Comments


Since Miami is a transient city, there tends to be a lot of renters.

I’m often contacted by people with questions about renting and getting their security deposit back. And just recently, I had to fight to get mine back. My landlord had been real friendly since the day we decided to rent her house. We never signed a lease and had a casual relationship, what some people may call a “friendship”. I thought the day we told her we bought a house, and to please consider the phone call our 30 day notice, she would be happy for us. Her tone changed from “friend” to “foe” in a matter of seconds. It was all downhill from there.

This article will summarize the basic procedures tenants should follow from signing the lease, to move out day, to ensure your money ends up back in your pocket.

The Benefits Of Signing a Lease

If you don’t sign a lease, who’s to say what the agreement is, or how much money you gave the landlord as a security deposit. If you choose to go this route, and not sign a lease, protect yourself by noting on every check exactly what the payment is for. Keep copies of all your cancelled checks.

This was my first mistake. My landlord didn’t even recall how much money I had given as a deposit.

Move In Day

Move-in day is always crazy but nothing is more important than the following:

  • Before you take possession, snap lots of pictures of the property.
  • Note anything that is damaged or worn and give a copy to your landlord. Have them sign and date the list. Make 2 copies - one for you, one for them.

How To Give Notice

Florida Statute § 83.57 states when renting:

week to week: tenant must give 7-day notice
month to month: tenant must give 15-day notice
quarter to quarter: tenant must give 30-day notice
year to year: tenant must give 60-day notice

You MUST give notice by cerified letter. Regardless of how chummy you and your landlord may be, this is absolutely necessary. Be sure to include the new address where your deposit should be sent. Keep a copy of the letter and the receipt from the Post Office. If you don’t do this, you won’t have any rights when it comes to getting you deposit back.

Move Out Day

When moving day approaches, set up a time with your landlord to do the final walkthrough. Again, make sure you take plenty of pictures. DO NOT leave without doing the walk through, and under NO circumstances do you want to leave without giving your landlord the keys, in person. I made the mistake of mailing my unscrupulous landlord the keys and she claimed she didn’t receive the keys for 2 weeks, making my actual “move out date” 2 weeks later, which she charged me for.

Important Tips On Getting Your Deposit Back

If you have followed the correct procedure for giving notice, your landlord only has 15 days to return your deposit, or 30 days to tell you why they are keeping it. After that time, they have NO legal right to keep any portion of your deposit.  This is the best tip I can give you; it worked for me twice. I knew this before contacting my landlord and purposly waited 30 days so I could tell her she was breaking the law. If your landlord decides to keep a portion, and you disagree, you have 15 days after receiving the letter to object by certified mail. If you can’t come to an agreement, the next step is court.

Thankfully, in my case, it didn’t come to this. I wrote her a detailed lettter explaining the many reasons why she was wrong to keep my money. She gave about half back. I settled because I didn’t have time to prepare a court case.

What To Do When Your Landlord Sells Your Apartment

Worth mentioning, it is not uncommon for landlords to change during the course of your lease. It is up to you to be proactive. Remember the list of damages you gave to your landlord when you did the initial walk through? When you have a new landlord, don’t assume this letter is in your file and is still valid. Start from step one and do a new walk through.

If you follow all these steps, and are a good renter, you should have no problem getting your deposit back.

Related Categories: Miscellaneous,

Michelle Moore is the Miami tours and transportation expert who founded Miami Beach 411. To schedule service, book online or call Michelle at (305) 754-2206.

See more articles by Michelle.

See more articles by Michelle

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19 Comments on

"How To Get A Security Deposit Back From An Unscrupulous Landlord"

Kimosabe says:

Good tips here..Im glad I didn’t need to do that with Mmy landlord.I hope I don’t have to do that with my new landlord.I had them take out a fridge and we made no note of that.

Posted on 11/11/2007 at 12:11 PM

Michelle Moore says:

I’m glad you liked the tips. I had to learn them the hard way but hopefully others can benefit from my mistakes.

I just had a dream last night that my old landlord was stalking us. smile

Posted on 11/11/2007 at 12:45 PM

... says:

That lady reminded me of Amy Winehouse-not for her looks or fame but rather the ‘infamy’ if you know what I mean…

Posted on 11/30/2007 at 10:07 AM

stephan says:

is there an agency whereby a complaint can be made against the landlord for not returning the security deposit?

Posted on 10/10/2008 at 11:14 AM

Gus says:

Stephen, I don’t know of an official agency, but you’re welcome to post your complaint here.

If you’re still living in the apartment, you may find this forum post helpful on landlord liability - breaking a lease:

You’re also welcome to join our site and start a forum thread of your own - Rate Your Landlord

Posted on 10/10/2008 at 8:44 PM

Sisi says:

What if in the lease doesn’t specify that I have to returned keys, and I don’t do the walk through after moving and I call a month later

Posted on 12/10/2008 at 8:48 PM

Michelle says:

Hi Sisi,

I don’t remember my lease stating we needed to give back the keys either - good point. We left the keys inside the house and that was that. We even called the landlord to tell her the keys were there on move-out day.

I would definitely send a certified letter if you don’t get your deposit stating the legalities surrounding security deposits. Let them know they have terminated their right to keep any portion of your deposit. If keys are brought up, send a copy of the lease outlining the fact there is nothing stated key return.

You can’t handle these situations by phone; I learned that the hard way.

Once, I sent that letter to a popular leasing company in Miami Beach that was jerking me around. The same day they got the letter, they called me to give back the deposit. Before that, I had called about 10 times and even visted their office. People take letters more seriously. Perhaps this is because they hold up in court.

Posted on 12/12/2008 at 7:55 AM

David says:

Mike and Mabel (Wu) Solt are a landlord couple whom we thought were decent people at first impression, but once the lease was signed, they became different people altogether. What we experienced as their tenants no one should have to go through. We want to alert all renters seeking to rent from honest and trustworthy landlords. The pattern we have observed with this couple is that Mike would have his wife play the bad guy role and he would later intervene as the good guy as they attempted to push their lucks to see if they could get away with anything. Mabel is an extremely flirtatious woman. She would not call my wife but would make every effort to reach me even at my work. As a couple they were constantly acting like they could not afford to fix anything in the house. On two occasions they snooped around the house and showed up at the door unannounced. They never kept their words and would later deny the things they had said to us. After repeatedly being lied to, we wrote them an email to let them know we preferred our communication to be restricted to email only so that we would have what they say in writing and there would not be any denial from them. They did not respect our request and Mabel continued to harass us by calling me at work. We then sought the legal advice of a tenant advocate who is also an attorney. We were advised to begin logging her phone calls. When we informed them about it, the phone calling stopped.

On the day of handover, only Mabel Wu showed up for the walk through. She called us 30 minutes before our appointment time; she was waiting at the door. She was dressed very provocatively and was accompanied by another male, Robert Yu, whom she introduced as her real estate agent. She said she and Mike wanted to sell the house and asked if we would be interested. We completely disregarded her question, thinking how inappropriate of her to even ask that question after what they have put us through. We proceeded with the walk through throughout which she commented how well we took care of the house. But then at the end of the walk-through, she informed us she would not return the security deposit until the 20-day grace period as required by California rental law. We asked her for a copy of that law and her agent friend quickly interjected saying he is a professional in the field of real estate. We then asked them to refer to our lease agreement which stated that they would return our security deposit when the walk-through is completed and it is determined at that time no damage or repair is required of the tenant. Mabel immediately pointed to the kitchen sink saying she was not satisfied with the cleaning. And then she said she was also not satisfied with both bathrooms upstairs. So we asked her to be specific about what she was not satisfied with so that we would clean them right away while we were all there. She then said she wanted to hire a professional to clean them and would deduct the costs from our security deposit. By then we felt our tolerance had been stretched beyond limits. We proceeded to leave the house and my wife told her it was time to call the police and our attorney. She became very frightened and immediately said she would call Mike. She walked across the street with her agent friend while we went to our neighbors to seek their help. She rushed over to our neighbors and shouted it was a great misunderstanding and she would write us a check to refund the full amount of the security deposit right away. She asked we settled the matter inside the house. My wife and I told her we could not trust them any longer. She apologized profusely in front of our neighbor and pulled out her check book immediately. She wrote the check, handed it to us and begged our forgiveness. We took the check from her and ignored her completely. We turned to her agent friend for the walk-through document, which we had to sign to release the agreement. After we signed the document, we handed her the keys and left the property immediately. Our neighbors called later to urge us to report the matter to the authority. They referred us to this website to write a review to alert others of Mike and Mabel.

If you must rent from them, have them put everything in writing. Do not trust anything they say. We were informed by the neighbors they are very unpopular among their neighbors. There are only a dozen houses on Dionne Way in San Jose and theirs is the only rental. When Mabel starts to talk in circles, stay calm and focus on what you are saying to them. Don’t let her distract you with her flirting and provocative outfit. My wife and I used a voice recorder at the walk-through. if possible, do use a writing tablet or a recording instrument and record what they say to you.

Posted on 05/30/2009 at 5:44 PM

California says:

Dear David,

Unfortunately, your landlord was right about the deposit. (But it is up to 21 days not 20 days.)

Under California law, 21 calendar days or less after you move, your landlord must either:

  * Send you a full refund of your security deposit, or
  * Mail or personally deliver to you an itemized statement that lists the amounts of any deductions from your security deposit and the reasons for the deductions, together with a refund of any amounts not deducted.194

Please refer to the California Gov’t site below

Posted on 06/15/2009 at 2:10 AM

Julia C says:

I had a year lease and I moved out after 4 months because of a job offer.  My roommate was pleasant and accepted my 30’s days notice and agreed to give me back the security deposit.  Now he is trying to deduct for cleaning services and telling me I still owe him for the rest of the year which states in the lease that I do not.  Its a FL state law that the tenant deposit money is to be kept in a separate non-interest-bearing account in a Florida banking institution for the benefit of the tenant or tenants. The landlord shall not commingle such moneys.  He has basically told me that he does not have that money and he uses it as his income.  He also preferred for me to pay in cash.  Is there a tenant association in Miami that can help me with this?  I know what he is doing is wrong and not legal.  I have pictures, emails, the lease, and my 30’s days notice for proof.  Any advice or information is much appreciated, thanks.

Posted on 09/17/2009 at 9:01 AM

renee says:

I am having a bad experience as well with a landlord that was so friendly until I moved out and he wanted me to pay for all these updates. He send me a letter in the mail with a 100 dollars. He kept 400 of it. I am a teacher and have been so busy working and just came upon your website. I planned on filing Monday, but it says that I had to do it in 15 days. Is that working days? The letter was not sent to me certified and I know that I didn’t get it until days after the day on the envelope. How does that work? Did this horrible low bottom slum lorder get me on that?

Posted on 09/26/2009 at 6:49 PM

Julia C says:

from what I know about FL state law the landlord has 30 days to tell you in person or by certified mail at your last know address.  I don’t live at my email address so that’s how I got my last landlord because everything he sent me was through email and I saved all the emails and printed them out for hard copies.

Posted on 09/26/2009 at 9:29 PM

renee says:

Thanks for the advice. No he did’nt tell me in person and he actually left me a message the day after I moved out and told me I would get my security deposit back. I still have that message on my phone and it is dated! He didn’t send the letter certified, but I did give him my new address. Thanks for the advice as it looks like I can still get my deposit back and file this Monday. Now if I wait until the 30 days will I automatically get my deposit back as the letter was sent, but not certified? Again, I didn’t get it the date posted on the outside of the envelope. If this is true you have made my day and thank you so much for the information.

Posted on 09/27/2009 at 4:15 AM

renee says:

Julia, Thank you and yes it does have to be certified. I have him on so many other things, but it is great to just leave it at that. Yippee! Honest good people can over ride the slimy slum lords. Beware they are really friendly at first! smile

Posted on 09/27/2009 at 4:32 PM

K says:

A) always do a walk thru BEFORE you move in, with pictures.
B) in Florida we (landlords) are not required to do a walk thru with tenants.  It takes hours to check every appliance, light switch, faucet and days to get estimates for repairs.
C) after having 2 deadbeats break the lease and trash my SFH, I just don’t have any sympathy for tenants.  At all.  I’m sick of brand new carpet ripped and stained after 3 months, replacing drywall, repainting, repainting, repainting, retiling, regrouting (some stains will never come out), scrubbing and cleaning up after supposed adults like they were children, fixing broken windows, paying to have trash hauled out of the backyard, and then having these deadbeats threaten to sue and scream at me because they want their deposit back.  And these are the tenants who PASS the background check and screening!  Short of running a meth lab or turning the SFH into a grow house, I just don’t see how this can get any worse.
If you are an actual responsible mature tenant who pays their rent (on time) and doesn’t trash the house or apartment, then you are a rare gem.  And I have never met you.  Ever.  Everyone else deserves what they get.

Posted on 12/20/2009 at 4:43 PM

lj says:

i am having a weird experience with my landlord/s. We moved into a brandnew apartment in january and the landlord was very nice. Just recently 8 months later we find out something shady was going on and the first landlord has been ‘relieved’ of the property due to non payment. now our new landlords will not return our calls or fax us the appropriate documents stating that they are a legit business. we dont know what to do now since our lease is up pretty soon and we may not get our sec. deposit back. what can we do?

Posted on 08/30/2010 at 9:51 PM

juliaanh says:

when about to move out from my 5years apartment i gave the leasing proprety 3 month notice but yet the apartment is not ready till month after i supposed to move out.I move to another apartment with the same leasing,clean the apartment after 7dys i do not heard anything about my security deposit.I walk down to the office the manager walk with me to the old apartment and she told the there is a stain in bathtub,toilet sink,outside kitchen cabinet and i told her i will clean all the stain next day.when i got to office next day the manager say different thing. With all the explanation Yet she refused to let me clean the stain .As i recall the apartment is not rent to any prospective tenant.W hat shouid do since manager refuse and want to get my full security deposit.

Posted on 10/14/2011 at 1:44 AM

Grant Flower says:

I presume that now I’m fully secured by reading you have shared nice conception about Security Deposit! I must follow you have shared step for get high security for my deposit.

Posted on 10/22/2011 at 11:29 AM

Miguel says:

My landlord lost the apartment I was renting to foreclosure - I found out the day the eviction officer knocked on the door. After much talking he promised to pay back $2400 he owes me - $1200 deposit, $1200 last month. It’s been 3 months and he’s only paid me $300. I have all the emails we’ve exchanged plus copies of all the checks used to pay rent for 7 years. What can I do?

Posted on 11/14/2011 at 10:05 PM

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