Landlord withholding deposit in IL. I could use some advice

I paid a $450 security deposit to rent a room in my landlord’s home. I just moved out today. She has decided to withhold the entire thing due to carpet wear and tear caused by my furniture sitting on the carpet, and damage to wheels on a rollout bed. I did break the wheels (they were flimsy but hey, I still broke them) and expected that she would repair them out of the deposit and send me the remainder. But I can’t see justifying $400+ worth of carpet wear over a span of 5 months. She also has not offered to provide an itemized list of the charges in question, or a receipt proving she paid them, which I believe I am entitled to under Illinois tenant laws. I actually do not believe she intends to repair or replace the carpet; she’s just using it as an excuse to keep the deposit.

However, all of the legal stuff I’ve found online seems to apply to landlords who rent out 5 or more spaces. My landlord was only renting to 2 (me and one other roommate). Do I have any recourse? Or will I need to take her to small claims? Should I? Will I be boned, or is it not worth the time? Should I just accept that I won’t get the deposit back? $450 is a lot of money to me.

If you want to see a full copy of the email she sent me, and the one I am planning to send back to her, I will PM it to you. I don’t want the text of it searchable by google, though, so I am not posting it here.

I understand that this advice is worth what I’m paying for it, but I cannot justify paying to consult a lawyer in real life over $450. I’ve also never paid a security deposit to live in a landlord’s home before, so this is all new to me. Thanks for any advice (or even just commiseration) you can offer.

Based entirely on my viewing of the People’s Court and because this is IMHO and not GQ:

  1. Did you have a signed lease or rental agreement with this woman?
  2. How much notice did you give her that you were leaving?
  3. How bad is the carpet? What did it look like when you moved in? Do you have pictures?
  4. Did you leave the rest of the space clean, etc?

Again, based on viewing:

In small claims court (at least the People’s Court/Judge Judy, etc) it doesn’t seem to matter if there was one tenant or 10 - the same rules apply.

If you had no signed lease generally you’re considered a month-to-month tenant and are required to give 1 month’s notice. They seem quite particular about this. 2 weeks, 3 weeks, not good enough - you need the full month.

Assuming general wear and tear of the carpet she should be allowed to have it cleaned - however for one room I expect that would be about $20 - not $400.

Even if the carpet is totally wrecked and needs replaced - she would get the depreciated value of the carpet that was there when you moved in, so if it was 10 years old, she doesn’t get replacement - maybe $100. If it was brand new and she can prove it with receipts - more.

Its probably worth while to file if only to teach her she can’t play fast and loose with the rules - if she want’s to be a land-lady, she has to follow the rules.

Here is what appears to be some relevant info:

And the really relevant, important bit:

(Link: Security Deposit -

Now, notification in writing does seem to be limited to spaces with more than 5 units or renters; however, based on the show it doesn’t seem like judges limit it that way - that is, even if it’s only one room in a house being rented judges expect a detailed accounting to be sent out.

This is another link:

The have a place that you can fill out a free survey and they will determine if you’re entitled to any/all deposit back.

It also says that is she illegally withholds your deposit you’re entitled to

So - if it applies to you that could be your original deposit plus a few hundred bucks - certainly worth filling out the form.

How could your furniture have caused damage to the carpet? If all it did was rest on the carpet, then that would seem to be normal wear and tear by definition.

Thank you all for the information. I would rather scare her (legally, not via intimidation or blackmail) into paying me by telling her that if we go to small claims court, I will win the case. Potential extra damages coming into play sounds like a really nice way to do that.

She is mad because I didn’t have a plastic mat under my computer chair the whole time I was there. The reason is because the carpet is a really deep, thick pile and it BROKE my chair mat (which I’d been using on a shorter carpet pile for a long time before that with no significant signs of wear). I couldn’t afford to buy another one and it would have just broken again anyway. And I spend the majority of my time on the computer so the carpet there is worn down.

1. Did you have a signed lease or rental agreement with this woman?
Yes, I can link the text of it via PM if that would help you. It was a 6 month agreement (more on that in my answer to #2)
** 2. How much notice did you give her that you were leaving?**
We had originally agreed upon a 30 day notice to break the lease in either direction after the first 6 months were up (whether it was her wanting me out or me wanting to go). It was set to expire on April 30th. We had originally agreed on a 6 month lease and I moved in on October 1, so the move out date should have been April 1–she made a miscalculation when she authored the lease document, and I didn’t catch it. I was going by the move-out date provided on the lease paperwork, and looking for places starting May 1. She tried to give me 30 days notice on March 1 and I pointed out that the move-out date on the lease was actually 60 days from March 1 (I hadn’t counted the days until she pointed out it was accidentally 7 months–and SHE drew up the paperwork that I signed, so it was her mistake). I told her I was planning to move out at the END of April, not the beginning, per the date on the lease. She wrote me back a nasty email saying she expected me out by April 1 regardless, so I asked her if we could just mutually agree to break the lease ASAP. She agreed, I agreed, and we both wanted out pretty bad at this point. I did a rush job via craigslist and found a place and moved within 3 days. (I have an email trail for all of this, that she agreed to let me go early and I agreed to go early.) There was no clause in the lease for early termination.
** 3. How bad is the carpet? What did it look like when you moved in? Do you have pictures? **
I don’t have pictures. I didn’t take pictures because I only had three day to orchestrate finding a place and then moving. I didn’t have any help, did everything by myself. And I don’t have a camera. It didn’t occur to me that she’d be busting my balls this hard. My bad…
** 4. Did you leave the rest of the space clean, etc?**
It was absolutely pristine. I never spilled anything on the carpet so all I had to do was go over it with a fine-toothed vacuum (I lint-rolled the floor first too, just to make sure I didn’t get hair in the vacuum). The walls look exactly as they did when I moved in–I never put up any posters or nails, no scuff marks, and my stuff didn’t leave any dings. I did not leave a single speck of my property or trash behind, and there was NOTHING dirty about the room. But again I don’t have pictures to prove this. My bad there.

I do have the phone number of the other roommate who lives there. I might be able to ask him to take a picture of the room, but I am not sure if he even has a camera. Plus, he was always nice to both me and the landlord so I don’t want to make him choose a side, as it were.

The house was purchased brand-new in September of 2010 so the carpet was pretty much brand new when I moved in. It’s a very soft, extraordinarily high pile. It definitely has furniture dents in it from my stuff. Part of my argument is that anyone living in that room would have furniture regardless, so I shouldn’t be held responsible. The damage is seriously just normal wear and tear. It’s in pristinely clean condition.

If anyone has links to cases similar to this, if small claims cases are posted anywhere, I’d much appreciate that too. If not, no worries… I don’t think any case law is based off wins/losses in small claims anyway. Just wondering…

I’d also like to know if it could be damaging to a small claims case to send her an assertive, respectful email about my rights as a tenant and that I believe she is breaking the law. (or at least would be if she had 5+ tenants)

Do I have an obligation to notify her that I’ll be taking her to small claims if she doesn’t cough up? Or should I just stop emailing and serve her with small claims papers in 45 days?

I had problems with an apartment in Chicago - they tried to withhold the deposit claiming various things (the apartment hadn’t been cleaned properly, etc). I mailed them a letter I’d typed up, the law about deposits in Illinois (about furnishing an itemized list of repairs within 30 days). They sent me a check straight after that, no questions asked. It was a company and not an individual, though, so they obviously had more than five units.

You’ll be better off letting her know this. She may try to negotiate with you–if you can reach a reasonable agreement you’ll save the court fees and such.

I’d do this. There are definitely landlords out there (I’ve had one) who will try to screw tenants out of the security deposit but will back down immediately & pay up when the tenant demonstrates they’re knowledgeable about the law.

ETA: Make sure to quote the law directly, not just say “It’s illegal for you to not return my deposit.”

This kind of stuff really urks me. My last landlord tried to withhold money from my deposit for cobwebs. The things is, I vacuumed the ceiling and walls before I left so the cobwebs definitely showed up sometime in the two weeks it took her to finally go over my apartment.

I sent her a letter, with cites, about what she could and could not charge me for. I also told her I would take legal action if she didn’t follow the law to the letter. She sent me my full deposit.

Just because you are not sure its worth it to take her to small claims, doesn’t mean she will know that. She may just refund you deposit so she doesn’t have to deal with you anymore. Definitely don’t let it go. Also, often times a lawyer will write a letter for you relatively cheaply. A letter coming from a law office can be pretty good incentive for a landlord.

In my opinion, there is no way a computer chair on a carpet for five months (less, depending on when the mat broke) could cause anything more than normal wear and tear. Period. She is just trying to get money out of you.

You need to let her know it’s not acceptable, or she may try to do it to someone else in the future.

If there’s a law school, or university with a legal school within it, you may be able to find some grad students to type up an official-looking letter for you. The Other Shoe had to go this route with a shady landlord back when he was in college, and got prompt results from the landlord when he was presented with the Impressive Official Looking Letter.

The property manager for a house I rented several years ago attempted to illegally withhold more of the deposit for things like lawn mowing after our move-out. I composed a letter, starting with some recommendations and information from Every Tenant’s Legal Guide, also citing the relevant terms of the lease and the governing state code.

My county has a department of landlord-tenant affairs which was the appropriate forum for such disagreements. I told him that if the money was not returned within ten days, I would file a complaint for triple the amount due (as allowed by state law) plus attorney’s fees. My check for the balance of the deposit (plus interest) arrived several days later.

This worked because the manager didn’t have a leg to stand on. I think he assumed most of his tenants didn’t know their rights. He had a lot to lose if the case went before the county, since his management business would have been on searchable record as having taken advantage of tenants. I was disappointed that he caved so quickly; I had wanted to file the complaint.

Check to see whether your locality has a resource similar to the department of landlord-tenant affairs. Don’t underestimate the power of a well-researched certified letter. Your former landlord may not be worried about bad press since she isn’t a business and may never want to take on another tenant, but it is worth a shot. If there is municipal governing entity, I recommend mentioning them along with small claims court. If your landlord hasn’t been paying property/income taxes appropriately she would probably prefer not to be outed as a landlord.

This is pretty much exactly what I would do - I get the feeling your landlady is counting on you being young and inexperienced to intimidate you into just going away without your money.

When you move into your new apartment, go over every inch of it with your new landlord and note every single ding and scratch and both of you sign the damage sheets and you both get copies of them. You should also probably take pictures when you move in and when you move out. Most landlords are reasonable and expect wear-and-tear from tenants; some are assholes.

Also, didn’t you and your landlord have some personal problems previously? I seem to recall that there was a Pit thread about someone putting up pictures of their friends on the fridge and they were taken down, put back up, taken down, ad nauseum, then nasty notes and e-mails ensued. Was that you?

If so, could be that she’s holding a grudge. I’m not saying that’s ok or good, but if you had bad blood in the past, it’s probably not surprising that she’d be a bitch about this. Also, you both seem to have had issues with the contract - what it allows and doesn’t allow. Is she a first-time landlord? It could be she’s blundering through this. Anyway, the letter is a good idea. Good luck.

Personally (and I’ve had to do similar things to this over the years), I’d keep it very simple, “charge-neutral,” and business-like. I would simply state that, pursuant to <insert law here> you expect your deposit (plus the statutorily-required interest) sent to you within 30 days of vacancy of the apartment. I would also state that, should the landlord feel she is owed funds due to legitimate damage, you will expect an itemized list of such damages within that same 30-day window. Non-compliance with these requests will result in legal action against her on your part. Make sure you send it via registered mail, or other verifiable means of delivery. You don’t want her able to claim she never got the communication.

If it is possible to get in the unit again (do you have a legitimate reason to visit your housemate?) I would take a photo of the area in question for documentation. The typical “furniture dents” in the carpet are not legitimate claims against your security deposit. If your chair actually wore out parts of the carpeting, that might be a different matter.

As long as you don’t engage in any name-calling or other incendiary language, such a letter will actually help your case should it come to a court action. It will show that you are a methodical, reasonable person who was only asking for what is due to them under the law.

Carpets being matted down by furniture is not damage.

I think that before you can even file a small claim, you have to swear that you’ve attempted resolution on your own.

What I’d do is to first email her a request for your full security deposit back minus a reasonable price for the repair of the casters that you admit breaking. This will document that you’ve attempted to resolve it privately. If/when she denies your request, then email her that unless she returns the bulk of your deposit within x days, you will file a claim against her in SCC.

Judge Judy, for one, is very hard on owners who withhold security deposits. Painting, carpet cleaning, etc. is part of normal wear-and-tear is comes with owning a rental property. Unless you actively damaged something, she cannot legally withhold your money.

She is assuredly holding a grudge. And I am the first person she has ever rented to.

The email that I’ve composed says exactly this.

The advice is much appreciated, guys and dolls! I will be sending her the email as soon as the rent refund check she wrote me clears. I don’t want to risk pissing her off and having her put a stop pay on it.

Update: just cashed the rent refund check (woohoo!) and sent the email. I informed her assertively, but not rudely, that I can’t be held responsible for wear and tear to the carpet, but I would be happy to see copies of receipts proving that she repaired the wheels on the bed, with a reasonable fee for her labor (or the labor of whoever she hires). I told her that I am owed back the portion of the deposit sans wheel repair by 30 days from yesterday, or the entire deposit by 45 days from yesterday. I informed her (matter-of-factly) that what she was trying to do was illegal.

I’m sure I’ll be getting back something pissy within the next few hours. I closed my email for peace of mind so I wouldn’t lose any sleep tonight. I didn’t mention small claims court yet, though. That’s my trump card and I’ll save it for when I get her next reply. I’ll post back what happens next.

Thanks again, you guys are the best!! I really had no idea that Judge Judy covered stuff like this. I used to watch her show in high school though. I liked her because she reminded me a little of a bitter old lady, but someone who is really quite fair.

Or you may be able to get an actual attorney to send such a letter cheaply.

Years ago, I was able to get money owed to me thanks to the Scary Lawyer Letter.