A Guide to Rental Security Deposit Litigation

Tenants can take landlords to court if their rental security deposit is not returned within 30 days after vacating an apartment in good condition. Some state laws allow tenants to collect additional penalties if they successfully sue landlords for failure to return a rental security deposit.

Most rental security deposit litigation is handled in county small claims court in the county where the property is located. Attorneys are not necessary for small claims court.  Your state judiciary's website lists the appropriate location and paperwork to file. 

When initiating the lawsuit, use the landlord's address for notices that is listed on your lease. Do not write the rental property address on the complaint; this is grounds for a dismissal.

You must sue for the total of your security deposit, any penalty allowed by law, and any court costs that you wish to recover. For instance, if you sue for a $1000 rental security deposit, the state mandates a 100% penalty, and you paid a $50 filing and mailing fee, put $2050 on the complaint.

You will receive notification of the trial date by mail. Be on time, and bring any supporting documents such as the lease or photos of the property. Typically, you will go to mediation before trial. The parties can choose to settle in mediation or go to trial where the judge will rule. 

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