Security deposit return-no forwarding address

13 Replies

Hi guys,

So I evicted couple of tenants for nonpayment and I have a question about returning security deposits.

I bought this fourplex from a seller and he did not provide any move in inspections reports.

Therefore, will be hard to prove if a damage was done by the tenant or not.

My attorney says that I have to write those tenants letter explaining them what will be deducted from the security deposits. Those tenants did damage to the property (probably about 2-3K per unit) but I would not be able to prove it in court.

I dont want to return security deposit (because I have to spend much more on fixing up plus I spent a lot on legal fees to evict them).

Plus one tenant was a tenant from hell, threatening to hurt another tenant, and then threatening to take me to court for not evicting this other tenant, calling me at 6 am when he gets off work, in other words, I am not looking forward to communication with this tenant.

However, I do not want him to take me to court for not mentioning security deposit either...

So is there a way around it? Can I somehow try to contact him without making him want to contact me back?

For instance, if I say: "Joe, I need to discuss with you return of your deposit" Then of course he will contact me and will start the fight over security deposit, which I probably will lose because I cant prove that the damage was done by him.

What if I write a letter and say: "Joe, please contact me within a certain period of time to discuss court hearing and the issues that were brought up by the judge "

Probably JOe is not gonna try to contact me because judge awarded me the unpaid rent...

And , in this case, if Joe will try to go back after me for security deposit, then I can say: "I contacted you to discuss it and you never reciprocated"

What do you guys think?

Do you have any other ideas?

Or if I just lay low and do not contact him at all, after 30 days if he does not contact me then I dont have to return him the deposit at all, is that what Pennsylvania law says? He has not left me any forwarding address by the way. 

Each state is different. But your attorney told you how to proceed. Sometimes if you can’t return it due to no address you have to turn it over to the county for holding.  

How can you not prove the damage?  Florida I took everything as perfect if not on an inspection report. Not sure why you didn’t do one during initial inspection, if you did one at all. 

Good luck.  Faster you get past this the faster you can start making money again

Wait, he owes you unpaid rent? If he doesn't provide you a forwarding address you have no responsibility to send the money within 30 days. If he asks you about the security deposit return, tell him it was put against the unpaid rent. He lost his right to the security deposit when he broke the lease by not paying the rent. Almost all leases have in it that the security deposit can be used to cover unpaid rent/damages, so once he provides an address, if ever, just send a certified return receipt letter saying the security deposit was fully applied to unpaid rent. You could even give him a full accounting, showing all the excess money he owes even after the security deposit, then you'll usually never hear from them again, haha

Just send a certified letter to the last known address , your rental either the post office will forward or you will get it back . Dont open it and just save it incase you go to court 

He owes you rent as awarded by the judge.  Keep the letter short and simply list the items, including the rent (and mention that it was awarded by the court) and if the total is more than the deposit, which I'm guessing it will be, he won't be getting a cheque.  Send a certified letter to his last known address (your house) and you're done.  check with your attorney.

A couple of things here. First off, you don't need an attorney to handle an eviction. The process is pretty simple. Secondly, if they owe you rent money, most leases allow you to liquidate the security deposit to take care of back rent. If your lease doesn't say that, you need to change your lease.  

@Mary Jay   In PA, you must send the tenants a letter within 30 days of them leaving, if you do not you could be subject to additional fine above the cost of the security deposit.  #2 If you do not have a forwarding address, then send the letter to "their last known address" , which can be the apartment they rented.  Then when the letter either comes back to you or is delivered to your property, retain that letter with its postmark as proof that your letter was timely sent within the 30 day window.  And if there is thousands of dollars of damages yo may file withe District Justice, but to have chance to collect you are going to need their new address or their employers address.  If the damage is significant, you may want to hire a skip tracer to find out where they moved.

I agree with the others who say to prepare a letter explaining deductions being taken from the security deposit, and to mail it along with a check for any remainder if any to the last known address you have (the rental address probably if no forwarding address was given to you). Normally, in PA this must be done in thirty days - but there is an odd loophole in the PA landlord tenant act that says that this applies only if a forwarding address was given. How you interpret the law is not so explicitly expressed in the law, so please read it from the link below:

"(e) Failure of the tenant to provide the landlord with his new address in writing upon termination of the lease or upon surrender and acceptance of the leasehold premises
shall relieve the landlord from any liability under this section."

Whether that removes just the thirty day limit, or the requirement to return anything, can be debated. The conservative approach is to ignore that the loophole exists at all and send things timely; that way if you are ever challenged the loophole can be brought up in court to demonstrate that your behavior was well within what the law requires. As to whether they fail to cash the check if one is included, I was told that the landlord should escheat that to the state as unclaimed money; but who will know that there is unclaimed money if you don't do that? Leave the check (and letter) in the envelope unopened if it is ever returned, and keep it on file that way (forever). After six months, most banks won't cash the check since banking law does not require the bank to do so; after one year no bank should cash it.

I have question to build off this one, as I'm going through something semi-similar in PA, and you all seem to have some good experience here! My tenants recently moved out on May 1st (4 tenants total on one lease). Prior to move out, I provided them with details on cleaning, moving out, and a form for their forwarding address. I never heard from them regarding the forwarding address, so I sent out the deduction letter and checks via certified mail. Two of them set up forwarding addresses, two of them did not. To date, they did not receive the checks, and are reaching out to ask me about it. I informed them to touch base with USPS to try to track them down, however, they are still reaching out as they did not yet receive them. They are now asking me to cancel the existing checks and return the deposits in another manner. The lease includes the language around forfeiture if a forwarding address is not provided, but I was trying to do the right thing from the start and return their remaining deposit. What would you do in this case? Do I cancel existing checks, and send them new ones now that they are reaching out? We're 60 days out now from the expiration of the lease. Appreciate any feedback that you can provide!

@Joshua Smith since it seems you have a reasonably good relationship with these tenants (unlike the OP), I would cancel the checks and resend with a tracking service (USPS priority mail). Include a quick letter stating that you originally sent to (address) on (date) and you’ve since cancelled and reissued the checks.

I would also:

- deduct the cost of canceling the checks and postage from the new refund (unless it was your fault)

- check with the bank to confirm if there’s any details about a cancelled check being cashed. Maybe you have to wait 5 days before reissuing. I don’t know.

@Joshua Smith - you said the checks were sent certified mail; what does the post office have to say about the failed delivery of certified mail?

I bet those tenants were afraid to go get that certified mail, because they might have thought you were taking legal action against them. And it sounds like these were college students.

Don’t do anything until the post office can track down what happened. As I posted earlier above, PA law does not hold you to a 30 day deadline when they fail to provide a forwarding address. Not your problem that they did not do as requested - at least not yet. And when you send certified mail, you get a special receipt with that, so that should be adequate proof that you attempted a “best effort”. You might consider just using “proof of mailing” with the post office in the future.

Thanks, @Mike McCarthy and @Steve Babiak ! They were college students, and also inherited tenants. I'll try to touch base with the post office regarding the certified delivery, as I have not yet had them returned to me either. Once I figure that out, I'll deal with cancelling checks and reissuing. 

Any issues with sending them the letter via email, and updated forms of returning payments, such as Venmo? Venmo does provide statement history for record keeping. 

I would never use Venmo or Zelle or CashApp or the like for returning security deposits. A letter accompanying a paper check would identify specifically what the payment was for.

Tenant could say “That electronic transfer was money he owed me for doing XYZ and PQR. That wasn’t the security deposit.” No thanks.

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