Moving can be frustrating and stressful. It gets worse when you can’t get your security deposit, especially when you’ve been a model tenant. Here’s how you can get your security deposit back in 10 minutes.

What is a security deposit?

A security deposit protects a landlord if the tenant fails to pay. It may be used to repair damages from the tenant, clean, re-key, or cover rent. But if there were no damages and your landlord is still keeping your security deposit, you may have a case in small claims court.

Gather Evidence

Compile photos of the property from before and after you’ve moved in. Ideally, you took photos of the property before you moved in, and those photos have dates. This proves the condition of the property prior to your lease. If you have evidence that the property was damaged before your move-in, then you’re more likely to get your security deposit back.

Notify Your Landlord of Your Intent to Sue

After you have evidence that your landlord does not have grounds to keep your security deposit, you should notify your landlord that you intend to sue. This gives both of you an opportunity to avoid court and reach a resolution easily.

You can notify your landlord with a demand letter. Strongly worded and professional demand letters are effective in getting payment. You’ll want to mention how you have evidence that your security deposit should be returned.

Unsure of how to write a demand letter? Easily generate and send one with Dispute’s software. Instead of worrying about printing, postage, and delivery, let trained agents handle the hassle. Just click send and check your dashboard for updates.

After 14 days and no response from your landlord, you may decide that you’d like to file a small claim.

File a Small Claim Against Your Landlord

If your landlord is not reactive to your demand letter, you can file a small claim to make them take you seriously. While it requires some investment upfront, you may be able to win your security deposit and your landlord will have to pay your court costs as well.

To file a small claim, start with selecting a courthouse. You should choose a courthouse based on the address of the rental property. Once you’ve chosen a courthouse, you can research specific proceedings based on the courthouse. While some states have general small claims procedure that applies to all courthouses, some states have varying rules by courthouse.

After selecting a courthouse and researching their rules, you can fill out the court paperwork. You’ll fill out some basic information for yourself, information on your landlord or leasing company, and then also describe your cause of action. In this case, your cause of action is your landlord refusing to return your security deposit.

Once your forms are completed, you’ll have to sign them. Some courts also require notarization. You may need to find a local notary or go to a post office or other public office.

Finally, you’ll need to file the completed and signed forms with the court. You can either make a trip to your local courthouse, mail, e-file, or fax file your forms. Different courthouses support different filing methods, so you’ll need to do some research to find out what method your local courthouse accepts.

Sounds like a lot of work? File with Dispute, and let us take the difficulty out of it. Easily select a courthouse from our drop-down menu, answer a few questions, and we’ll generate your forms for you. Sign or notarize your paperwork in-app, and then we’ll file it for you.

Wait For the Court to Process Your Paperwork

After the courthouse has received your paperwork, you’ll have to wait for them to send back a file-marked copy. This is also known as the conformed copy. If you’ve been waiting a while, you may want to call the court clerk to check the status of your case.

Once you’ve received your conformed copy back from the court, you can start serving the defendant.

Start Defendant Service

Once the court has approved your paperwork, you have to notify the defendant that they have been sued. This is called service of process, and it must be done in a particular way. Be sure to check the local guidelines for service of process and follow them exactly. If you fail to serve the defendant according to those rules, your case may be dismissed.

After the defendant is served, you have to prepare for your hearing. Some states require the defendants to file a formal answer to your claim, so you may need to wait a while before receiving a hearing date.

Prepare for Your Small Claim Hearing

In some states, you may have a pre-trial hearing. Make sure you read your local guidelines carefully. But in general, you should prepare to present your case on the assigned date.

To present your case well, you should gather evidence. Some evidence could include your lease, photos of the apartment, and any written agreements between you and your landlord.