My Landlord Will Not Return My Security Deposit — May I Recover My Attorneys’ Fees if I Hire a Lawyer to File a Lawsuit Against My Landlord?

By Stephanie Minkoff

The short answer is, yes, thanks to recent changes by the Virginia legislature to the common law security deposit statute § 55-225.19.

There are two sets of laws that govern residential leases: common law (for private landlords unless they have multiple properties) or the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (mainly for institutional landlords, buildings, or private landlords with several properties). The Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (“VRLTA”) always had a provision for attorneys’ fees (see § 55-248.15:1), but tenants renting from private landlords who were exempt from the VRLTA could not get their attorneys’ fees recovered in a lawsuit to related to the return of a security deposit.

For reference, the VRLTA protects tenant’s apartments, rental homes, and federally subsidized housing in many different ways by imposing requirements on institutional and large residential landlords (defined as three or more properties subject to a residential lease). For more information on the rights of tenants in Virginia, please see our recent blog post on the subject.

Let’s say you have just moved out of your rental apartment and you now want to collect the security deposit you paid at the start of your lease. In Virginia, your landlord is obligated to return your security deposit with or without any deductions, which should be itemized with written notice, provided by the landlord, within 45 days after the termination of the lease (for both common law and VRTLA leases).

There are several reasons that your landlord may decide to withhold payment, including outstanding rent payments (including late fees as specified in the rental agreement), money to cover unpaid utilities, excessive wear and tear on the unit, etc., The landlord must provide written notice of such payment obligations. Tenants should make sure landlords have updated address information where security deposits can be mailed and returned. In situations where there is more than one tenant subject to the rental agreement, the security deposit will be returned, less any deductions, with one check made payable to all tenants to a forwarding address provided (unless otherwise previously agreed to in writing).

According to § 55-225.19, obligations in regards to security deposits by the landlord include:

  • Itemized record of all deductions made by reason of the tenants noncompliance with § 55-225.4 during the preceding two years; and 
  • Permit a tenant or his authorized agent or attorney to inspect such tenant’s records of deductions at any time during normal business hours.
  • Upon request by the landlord to a tenant to vacate, or within five days after receipt of notice by the landlord of the tenant’s intent to vacate, the landlord shall provide written notice to the tenant of the tenant’s right to be present at the landlord’s inspection of the dwelling unit for the purpose of determining the amount of security deposit to be returned. If the tenant desires to be present when the landlord makes the inspection, he shall so advise the landlord in writing who, in turn, shall notify the tenant of the time and date of the inspection.
  • Following the move-out inspection, the landlord shall provide the tenant with a written security deposit disposition statement including an itemized list of damages. If additional damages are discovered by the landlord after the security deposit disposition has been made, nothing herein shall be construed to preclude the landlord from recovery of such damages against the tenant, provided, however, that the tenant may present into evidence a copy of the move-out report to support the tenant’s position that such additional damages did not exist at the time of the move-out inspection.
  • If the tenant has any assignee or sublessee, the landlord shall be entitled to hold a security deposit from only one party in compliance with the provisions of this section.

If you feel that your landlord has not complied with his/her obligations and has not returned your deposit appropriately, and you are unable to resolve the dispute informally, you may decide to take legal action against your landlord. While you may consider handling the dispute yourself, inside or outside of court, hiring a professional with expertise related to the specific landlord and tenant laws in Virginia, doesn’t have to be a huge expense. Professional legal assistance can make the difference in obtaining a favorable outcome and with the recent legislative changes you are also able to request your attorneys’ fees associated with the litigation to recover your security deposit.

Feel free to contact Steven Krieger Law if we may be helpful in your security deposit dispute.

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3 Responses
  1. My landlord only gave me 300 of the 500 security deposit, 100 which is nonrefundable for normal wear and tear and cleaning. Received a letter saying that additional funds were taken out due to more cleaning and they had to buy blinds for the window because we replaced them and took the ones we bought with us on move out date. The previous blinds were broken or either missing on move in date as stated on move in inspection. Move out inspection, there was nothing noted other than appliances were dirty. He took months to repair anything that we notified him of such as, a leaking roof, a leaking window, broken window, broken washer, and a floor that was about to cave in, he simple said to walk around the damaged floor and I have a 1 year old so i thought that was pretty dangerous. Need help please.

  2. I just moved 02/02/2021. My old just sent me security deposits for only $125. out of $500.00 .Not right..I lived there since June 2019 til Feb 2021. Month by month lease.$500.00,always on time once medical. Bill pay so gave him $ ,450
    00 the next month late fee.$,50.00 ,+$$!650
    Total july month never late
    Again. So now he nickel.dime for every.thing I wasn’t there for hi inspection. Do that’s why its $/374 and change deduction from.my ,,
    Money. .. Ken Shively Community properties they own a lot of.rundown.place’s.. But my big thing.is he was cited by code services in November last year in my apt and now he’s charging me for.the towel.rack.in.bathroom.
    Also kitchen cabinet under.sink.replaced cited in violation. .. I have paper work from city code guy Chris but he was bad because he knew the ken.personally..so.Chris did things illegal talk to.him before me snout my apt. Not fixed time he wasn’t fined furnace bad. More things to paid not him. Thanks. If you can help some how . I’m senior disabled 59/ years old . lady with cane. Weak ,540 ,,728 8600. Not too many minute. On.phone left government on ,! Email me or text. Much appreciation. Nancy krom .
    ..
    Out

  3. I moved into a basement apartment on 10/2020, paid $700 in security deposit. I moved out by November 1st 2021. During my time there I had an accident and got behind, but I always paid before the month was up. From the time I moved in until I moved out I advised them of the toilet not working, or backing up and flooding the bed room or living room area, causing some warping of the floors. Intially I was told my toilet paper was too much so I switched brands but it continued to happen, about 5 more times. Approximately a 6 weeks before my move out date I was advised they are selling the home, and i had to move. Around that time the toilet messed up again, and I was told that they had to replace the pump so for the last month I had no bathroom in my apartment, but I had access to their bathroom upstairs. She accused me of putting trash in the toilet, and when I advised that I nor any of my guest would do that she sent me a picture of a sole piece of trash. I told it could have come from the prior tenant, but she stated it couldn’t have because they cleaned the pump last time. I have pictures and videos of how the place looked after I moved. I’ve texted several times with no response. Please help!

About the Author

Steven Krieger and guests (lawyers and non-lawyers) will periodically post about topics relevant to his firm and practice areas. Your comments and feedback are always welcome. 

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