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At the start of the month I moved out of my old house which wasn’t working (hooray!) but the landlord still hasn’t given my damage deposit back (boo!). I sent the landlord a text message the day I moved out and only yesterday he contacted me asking questions about where I left my key etc. The landlord keeps sending me messages “contact me soon”. I think what he means is he wants me to give him a phone call. I have a bad feeling about where this is going because the landlord never made an appointment to inspect the room to see that no damage was done. However, I took pictures that show it was in good state.

Given that I do not trust the landlord based on his history, I would prefer all communications be done in writing so I have a paper trail. Is there a polite way to reply to his “contact me” message? Something like “given we are talking about several hundred dollars I’d prefer if we stick to email or text messages so there is a record”?

  • Where are you located? Where I live, the landlord needs to submit a written itemized list of things that were wrong within 15 days, otherwise, he owes me double my deposit. – Stephan Branczyk Jul 22 '18 at 8:44
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Consider

I think that at this point in our relationship, we should stick to written communication (text, email, or physical) so there is a record to which we can refer in case of disagreement.

This doesn't accuse him and read neutrally implies that either of you may want to refer to the record. However, it makes the effective point that you require the record. If he does not read it neutrally, he may claim that you are calling him a liar. You can respond with something like

I'm not calling you a liar. I'm saying that this is a time for a consistent record to which we can both refer so as to minimize the chance of misunderstanding.

If he continues to rage, don't respond. Print the messages and store them in case they are needed in the future. I wouldn't read them more than to determine that there isn't actual information in them. Of course, this may not be a problem. It's only a possible response at this point.

I wouldn't mention the money, as it suggests that it is still an open issue. Stick purely to talking about the relationship in this advisement. The point is that you want the assumption to be that he will pay you the entirety of the damage deposit. He may want to make a partial or no payment.

Follow up by asking for an update on when you will get your damage deposit back, reminding him that you have pictures documenting the appearance of the room at the time of your departure. You may also want to remind him of the answers to any of his queries. Again, treat the amount of the money as set; the only question is when he will send it.

If you do agree to a reduced amount, tell him that you disagree that it is justified but that you are willing to agree to the reduced amount if paid by some specific date. That's not for IPS reasons but in case of a legal case later. The idea is that you are doing him a favor by agreeing to the reduced amount so as to bring the process to a close. Then if it goes to court, he can't say that you agreed as to damages of so much and then ask for additional relief.

You may want to start looking into options if he does not return the damage deposit within a reasonable time frame. Are you poor enough to get legal aid? Is there a regulator you can contact? Do you have to hire your own lawyer? Is there a legal provision that allows the lawyer to collect legal fees from the landlord rather than you?

I wouldn't bother threatening him with these options. Let the option that you choose do the threatening once you activate it. At most you might threaten him with the lawyer once, right before you retain the lawyer, something like "If I don't have a check for [amount] by [date], I'll refer this to my lawyer." You should already have talked to the lawyer and settled on fees by this point. It's basically a last ditch attempt to avoid paying the lawyer's retainer. With free options, there's no point. They have more experience and can make the consequences clearer.

Do not bluff. If he calls your bluff, you have no further recourse without doing the thing that you were bluffing. So if you say that you are calling a lawyer and don't receive the payment, call the lawyer. If you aren't willing to call the lawyer, don't threaten it. Just write off the money and move on. I'm assuming here that other options are not available. If one or more is, then you still shouldn't bluff. Just use the other option.

For legal reasons, try to keep emotion out of your communications. Stick to the facts. If you become angry, turn the case over to someone else to collect the money. That person won't have the same emotional investment.

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  • Thanks this is really good! Out of curiosity why do people say "for legal reasons, try to keep emotion out of your communications"? Is it just so the other person can't say you were acting threatening? – user16097 Jul 23 '18 at 1:52
  • @bighouse I'm mainly just saying to avoid saying things that are emotionally satisfying in the moment but which might make it look like you are the one being unreasonable. At the moment, you seem in the right. He owes you money and you want him to pay it or at least tell you when he is going to pay it. If he doesn't, you will want to go to a court of equity for redress. And a court of equity requires clean hands. You aren't a legal expert, so you won't know when you step across that line. So stay away from it entirely. – Brythan Jul 23 '18 at 2:54
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I'm assuming you are in the US as you mention dollars. Not sure if it's the same there, but in the UK you can send letters by recorded post and the recipient has to sign to accept delivery.

In your situation I wouldn't necessarily avoid a verbal discussion - this can just delay and make things awkward. What you should do is follow up any discussion in writing. Email is fine if you have an address and have communicated with him in this method before (since he can't then argue he randomly didn't get the email), but letter might be better. Send it recorded so he has to confirm receipt. Write something along the lines of:

Dear X, further to our telephone conversation at [time] on [date], I write to confirm that I am awaiting return of my deposit after vacating your property on [date you moved out].

Depending on the nature of your phone conversation will determine what you can also include: either you spoke and he agreed to the refund in which case you write that in the letter. Should he argue the point, you need to explain why you feel entitled to the refund and, if necessary, include hard-copies of the photos you took to prove it was in good condition.

In short, I don't think avoiding verbal communication is necessarily the answer, but back it up with a letter or email. Should things get ugly later, you still have written evidence to support the actions you took.

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You are currently late in refunding my deposit.

For documentation purpose, I need to have a written record of our exchange.

In other words, if you have something to say, please say it in writing, either by SMS text, by email, or by US Postal mail.

I will not communicate with you any other way.

And this is where you should research your local ordinances/State laws regarding deposits. How long does he have before refunding you your deposit? Does he owe you the deposit + interests? Does he owe you penalty fees for being late reimbursing you?

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