I would like to know the route I should take in receiving my security deposit back from my landlord after she has expressed her wish to end our lease?

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I would like to know the route I should take in receiving my security deposit back from my landlord after she has expressed her wish to end our lease?

I am currently renting a basement and have been now for almost 2 months. My lease was to end in about 4 months, unfortunetly my landlord has expressed verbally to me that she wishes to end our agreement sooner. She has not yet given me a written notice as required by our lease. She has accused me of having a pipe that seemed to contain illegal substances that she found during an inspection. I have not seen any evidence for this claim and strongly maintain my innocence on those charges. I was receiving government help for my rent $770 through a shelter organization which they have discontinued due to my landlord’s unfounded accusations. My landlord has expressed her plan to withold my security deposit $770 because of her accusation. I want to know if I should take her to court and, if so, what path should I take?

Asked on June 15, 2012 under Real Estate Law, Virginia

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

The problem for you is that the landlord is entitled to all her rent: if the rent had been being paid by a shelter organization but is no longer being paid, you become responsible for the entire amount. If you do not or cannot pay the rent, the landlord may evict you and also she will be entitled to retain your security deposit and apply it against your unpaid rent.

To try to fight this situation, you should go to court and seek a preliminary injunction barring the landlord from evicting you pending determination of whether 1) the landlord wrongfully caused your subsidy to be discontinued and/or 2) you are still entitled to the subsidy. You may have to name the shelter organization in the lawsuit, too, and you will basically be asking the judge to make a determination that the landlord acted wrongfully in reporting this false accusation (and so should not be allowed to take advantage of her own wrongful act) and/or that in the absence of evidence of your wrongdoing,  your subsidy should not have been discontinued.

This is not an easy or simple case to bring--it is a much more procedurally complicted matter than, say, simply suing someone in small claims court because they owe you money. If at all possible, get a lawyer to help you; if you cannnot afford one, try Legal Services--they often provide free legal assistance to tenants in your situation. If they cannot or will not help you, contract your state or county bar associations and inquire into whether they can put you in contact with an attorney who will help you on a pro bono (free or public service) basis.


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