Can I keep a deposit if there was no written contract?

I run a building that rents its space for weddings. A bride sent email confirmation in 11 months ago that she wanted to book our space for her wedding day next year. A contract was mailed but I never received a signed copy back, just her deposit, which was received 9 months ago by credit card. Now, the bride has e-mailed to say she wants to cancel and wants her deposit back. Our contract does state that all deposits are non-refundable. She says since she didn’t sign the contract her deposit should be returned. I say that the deposit is a verbal contract and I can keep it.

Asked on November 4, 2011 under Business Law, Maryland

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

If you provided her the contract--with the terms that the deposit is nonrefundable--prior to her sending in the deposit, or otherwise can prove that you made her aware that the deposit was nonrefundable prior to her sending it in, then you can keep the deposit. As long as she was aware of the terms and conditions--including, most importantly, the nonrefundability--prior to sending the deposit, she is subject to those terms. She cannot use her refusal to actually sign the contract to get out of her lawful obligations. So if she knew the deposit was nonrefundable prior to sending it, but chose to send it anyway, it will be nonrefundable.


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