How do you file in small claims court to get a security deposit back

I was in a bad situation where I needed temporary housing, so I found some guy on cragislist and rented from him for a month (yeah I know, but it was either that or homelessness, or moving back with my parents).

I stayed with him a month and he was a terrible roommate. He also charged me a $300 security deposit that he decided to keep because he claims I did $300 in damage in a month.

So I want to file suit in small claims court, but after talking to the property management at his apartment complex, I found out he never had authority to sublet. Subletting was prohibited by his lease. How does that affect my ability to file claim in small claims court (the fact that he wasn’t allowed to charge me rent or a security deposit)? Would that mean he never had the legal authority to charge me anything, and that would increase my odds of getting money back? or would it decrease my odds of getting money back?

Also this guy was a total douchebag (I won’t go into why) so if anything I can do can help him get evicted for his behavior, I’d be open to that too.

I’m sure the answer depends on where you live. IANAL yada yada…

Do you have a written sublease or rental agreement that you both signed that specifies the $300 security deposit and the terms for its return? Did you give him the $300 in cash and do you have a signed receipt, or do you have a cancelled check proving he got the money? Did he document the damages he says you caused and show you the bills he paid to fix those issues?

The fact that he wasn’t legally allowed to sublet you the space in the first place may turn out to be beside the point. In the future, as distasteful as it may sound, you can usually trust a blood relative more than a perfect stranger… and your parents normally aren’t going to charge you a security deposit to move back home for a month.

Total douchebags who illegally sublet apartments for one month and steal your security deposit tend to be pretty judgment-proof. Most likely result is that he doesn’t show up, you win by default, but can’t collect anyway and also had to pay a court filing fee and spend your time on this.

You can often find out who the owner of a property is by looking at tax records. You could write a professional-looking letter to the owner stating the facts of what happened about him subletting against his lease agreement. That might get him evicted. Maybe.

You might try checking where there is a local tenants’ rights nonprofit. I had a landlord issue many years ago, and they were happy to chat with me on the phone for a few minutes for free and gave me ideas on how to solve the problem myself (which worked).

How do I find the tax records for his apartment complex?

Depending on where you live you might be able to search on the County Recorder or Assessor (locale-dependant) website. In my fair state, for example, I can go to the site and aearch by address and find out all kinds of interesting stuff.

Where do you live, Wesley? Questions like this almost always require an understanding of state and local law.

I’m in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Its not even the money, I just want some justice against this guy.

Here’s the property search for Marion County, Indiana. http://maps.indy.gov/AssessorPropertyCards/

This has been my experience as well. And the douchebags are aware that small claims verdicts are rarely if ever enforced. If he loses and doesn’t pay, you will have to escalate, which will cost you time and money, and even that will probably not be enforced.

A determined friend of mine won a small claims court case against a landlord who wouldn’t pay. Friend was determined enough to escalate to the point that a lien was put on the property. It took over ten years, but eventually the landlord wanted to sell the property and had to pay up.

You probably won’t get any satisfaction from small claims court, so perhaps you should find another way to exact revenge. Good luck.

You shouldn’t need to do that if it’s an apartment complex. There may or may not be a management company handling day-to-day operations for the owner. Is there a website for the complex? Do they have a mailing address in the ‘Contact Us’ section? Is there a leasing office? You want a letter to the complex manager, not necessarily the owner. Contact the leasing office.

This is worth repeating a third time. Winning in court is easy–especially when you’re in the right. Actually getting money out of it is another thing entirely. I have a court ordered judgement declaring some asshole owes me $23,000. It’s worth about as much as the paper its printed on. I will never see that money. Save yourself the filing fees, additional stress and the wasted time at City Hall/Court House, etc. The sooner you can move on and just forget about that guy entirely, the better off you’ll be.

Read a story years ago about someone getting a claim against the phone company. PT&T. They just ignored it. He got a lean against one of their office buildings. Got their attention. He turned it around. He just ignored them, did not cash the check or sign off on the lean. Caused PT&T some trouble to get him to sign off on the lean.

The main issue, that you have not yet responded to, is “What is in writing?”. If nothing, then forget it. All he has to say is that there was never an agreement to rent, he just let you move in for a few weeks as a favor. If you can prove you gave him $300 he can claim it was an appreciation gift for his trouble, he blew it on hookers and now you’re trying to take advantage of him. He then tells the apartment manager “Yeah, bad decision on my part. I’ll never let anyone crash with me again for more than 1 night”.

For what it’s worth, the clerk’s office at a small claims court is often very helpful with the procedural side of the case; i.e., which forms to fill out and file, what your options are for serving the other party, etc. They can’t assess your chances of success, of course, nor help you figure out how to prove your case, but it might be worth talking to that office (or at least checking for a website) to see what the level of fees and other hassle is likely to be.

That’s maybe a touch too pessimistic. Obviously, your chances are better if something is in writing, but courts have ruled on oral contracts for centuries. It just comes down to who is more convincing to the judge.Admittedly the judge will have a bias towards no judgement, so if you’re both equally unconvincing they’ll rule against you. But if you show up neat and organized with the facts and dates clearly laid out, some evidence showing you really did live there (mail you received at that address, texts between you and douchebag, etc) and a clear story, while he shows up half drunk, belligerent and with an inconsistent set of denials, the lack of a written contract probably won’t hurt you too much. Though, again, collecting what he owes you is a whole nother story…

And the fact that he violated his lease agreement with the apartment management company doesn’t affect what he does or does not owe you. It wasn’t your job to make sure that he wasn’t violating a contract with someone else.

Oh, and definitely keep bugging the property management at his apartment. If nothing else try and find out if they think douchebag owes them any damage money (if not, douchebag has pretty much zero reason to get anything from you, right?) They probably won’t give you anything, but by reminding them that douchebag has (and probably will again) violate his lease, you might make them think he’s more trouble than he’s worth. (mild revenge)

A general question about this sort of thing, assuming someone wins a small-claims case:

What are the legal means of actually getting the other party to pay? I mean, clearly “OK, sorry, I was bad, here’s a check” is relatively unlikely to work.

Can you get it entered into their credit report?

Garnish their salary?

How would a person place a lien on the property?

I have done all of those things to recoup money owed. It’s not fun; it’s not pretty; and it may not be worth it.

First, win the case. Make a demand for payment, in writing, with certified mail, return receipt requested.

If unsuccessful, take your evidence to the judge who handled the case. He can issue a warrant for property attachment. You may have to have this served by a law officer. Sometimes the mere threat of attachment will get you a check.

Remember that each step takes money and time must elapse to give all parties time to contest or just pay up.

If there is nothing physical to attach, you can file for garnishment of wages with the judge. Be prepared for a court to be super-lenient to the defendant; if he owes you $1000 and has only a babysitting job for income, the court will probably award you $10 per week. It will be up to you to collect (by filing the notice with his employer), and if the defendant moves or changes jobs, you will have to start over again.

I hope you get the idea. A $300 debt is probably not worth the hassle to collect, especially if you are up against a “professional” debtor, who may have more experience than you in this racket. Consider it a lesson learned.

OTOH, a multi-millionaire who owed me $500 and refused to pay coughed up a check PDQ when the judge gave me a warrant to seize his limousine and sell it. You have to know your target.

I’d rather get him evicted, getting my $300 back seems like a huge hassle.

I’ve been to his property management company twice already. However I don’t think they’ve done anything. But I’m hoping if I’m enough of an annoyance, they’ll decide he isn’t worth the effort and either evict him or not renew his lease when it expires.

Depending on the laws of your state, evicting him mid-lease can range from difficult to near-impossible. And they’d need pretty substantial proof that he violated the lease. Your word would not be proof.

If he’s otherwise been on OK tenant to them - no noise complaints, pays rent on time, no meth lab in the kitchen - I’d say the odds are slim that the management company will pay any attention to a guy who keeps dropping by to demand they evict him or not renew his lease. Obviously that’s not costing you anything, but don’t be heartbroken if nothing comes of it. If you’re enough of an annoyance, they’re more likely to ban you from the premises than to evict him just to shut you up.