Follow these tips and you will have a better chance of getting your security deposit back when you move out.
Before or when you move in:
- Get a payment receipt for your security deposit and keep it.
- When you move in, make a list of defects or things that are wrong with the apartment and get your landlord to sign it.
- Take time-stamped photos of the apartment when you move in.
When you are ready to move out:
- Give your landlord the right kind of advance notice in writing of your plan to move out. There is a sample "moving out" letter included with this resource. If you have a lease, read it to find out how you have to give notice before moving out. Keep a copy of the notice and proof of how you sent it for your records, including any proof of mailing.
- Return keys on time and to the right person.
- Make sure your rent is paid and up to date before you leave.
- Make sure your apartment is in good condition when you move out. Take time-stamped pictures of the apartment, and make notes about what is right and what is wrong with the apartment when you leave. Have a friend or relative look over the apartment just before you move out. He can be a witness in case you have to go to court to get your deposit back.
- Leave the apartment clean and throw out all trash.
After you move out:
Send a letter to your landlord asking for your deposit back. It is a good idea to send the letter by certified mail so you can prove it was sent. Make sure the letter to the landlord has a forwarding address where the landlord can send you your deposit or a statement. There is a sample demand letter included with this resource.
Keep a copy of the letter you send, plus proof of when and how you mailed it, for your records.
As of January 1, 2019, if your landlord did not return your deposit or an itemized accounting of deductions within 30 days of your letter, you can ask the court for your deposit back PLUS a penalty of two times the amount wrongfully withheld. This means that if your deposit is $800, your landlord did not respond to your letter in 30 days, and the judge decides you should get your full deposit back, you could be awarded $2,400. If the judge decides you are only owed $500 of your deposit back because of damage to the unit, you could be awarded $1,500. You can also get awarded costs and attorney’s fees as a penalty.
The landlord’s obligation to respond to your letter, and the penalty when he doesn’t, appear in the law at Louisiana Revised Statute § 9:3251 and § 9:3252. You should be sure to ask for the penalty and cite the law when you go to court.
If 30 days go by and you have not received your deposit back, or you have only received part of your deposit back, you can sue your landlord for the balance. The easiest and least expensive way to sue your landlord is in Small Claims Court, where you do not need an attorney. To sue in small claims court your claim must be less than $5,000. If your claim is more than $5,000 you can sue in parish or city court, or in district court, but your costs will be higher and you may need an attorney
To sue your landlord in small claims court:
- Determine where to file suit. In most larger cities, small claims court is in city court. In more rural areas small claims cases are typically filed with Justices of the Peace. You can always call the district courthouse in your area and they can tell you where to file your small claims case.
- See if the court has forms you can fill out for your small claims case- most do.
- It can cost around $100 to file a small claims case. However, if you are low-income (your income is less than 125% of area median income) you can fill out an “in forma pauperis” application so you don’t have to pay the costs upfront. If you win, the court will make the other side pay the costs.
- After you file your suit, the constable will attempt to serve your landlord with the lawsuit. This means you need a good address for your landlord. It can be either his home or office. You can usually look up your landlord’s address in the public records or on the assessor’s website.
- After your landlord is served, he will have 10 days to file an answer or response to your lawsuit. Your landlord can also file a counterclaim against you.
- After that, the case will be set for trial. At trial, you and your landlord will go in front of the judge and present your evidence. You will have the opportunity to go first because you filed the case. You should show the judge the receipt for your deposit, and pictures or other evidence showing the condition of the apartment when you moved out. If your landlord says you owed rent, you may need to show rent receipts to prove you paid it.
- After both sides have presented their cases, the judge will make a ruling.