To say that moving is stressful is likely an understatement for anyone who has ever rented a home or apartment. Not only do you need to pack your life away and transfer your belongings before your leases’ end, you also have to ensure you leave your former residence in the same shape you first found it. If not, the sacred security deposit that’s constantly in the back of your mind is at stake.
Unfortunately, most renters are not aware of their rights under Florida’s Landlord Tenant Law and will not dispute a landlord’s refusal to return the first and last month’s rent sacrificed at the beginning of the leasehold. Although some rental situations warrant a landlord withholding a security deposit for legitimate damage caused by the former tenant, landlords often take advantage of a renter’s naivety of the law and pocket the security deposit for claimed damage that never actually occurred.
If you find yourself in a situation where your former landlord is refusing to return your security deposit, there are legal remedies available to you to help get your money back. Landlord Tenant Law in the state of Florida is very clear regarding a landlord’s duties in refunding a security deposit. If the landlord does not follow the requirements of the law exactly, then their right to withhold any amount of a security deposit is completely forfeited. The landlord then must to return 100% of your security deposit.
In Florida, once a tenant has vacated the property at the end of a lease, if the landlord does not intend to impose a claim on the security deposit, the landlord has 15 days to return the security deposit. Otherwise, the landlord has 30 days to give the tenant written notice by certified mail of their intention to impose a claim on the deposit and the reason for imposing the claim.
If your landlord gave you proper notice by certified mail of making a claim on your deposit, you need to reply with a written objection within 15 days of receiving the notice. After that, if you cannot negotiate a resolution with your landlord, one of you must file a lawsuit to resolve the dispute. Depending on the amount of the deposit, you may want to file the lawsuit in small claims court. The clerk's office has forms you can complete to file the lawsuit. Although a security deposit may seem like a small amount of money to sue over, if you prevail you will not only recover the whole deposit, you may also be entitled to have your attorney’s fees paid by your previous landlord.
If your landlord has withheld your security deposit from you, it is important that you discuss your claim with an attorney who will help you determine the best way to get your deposit back. Sometimes, all that is needed for a landlord to refund a deposit that was initially withheld is a letter from an attorney.
Don’t allow your landlord to bully you into forfeiting your claim to your security deposit. Let an attorney help you with your case, so that you can settle into your new home without the stress of your old one hanging over you.
Stephen K. Hachey, a Florida real estate attorney, can help your wade through this process and determine a positive solution. Contact him at 813-549-0096.
The opinions in this post are solely those of the author. The author takes full responsibility for the content. Like all blog posts, this is offered for general information purposes and does not constitute legal advice.