Furthormore, because the emails between myself and the owners agent is considered a legally binding contract (Offer, Acceptance, and Consideration), this can be used as evidence in small claims court regardless of what the original lease states because essentially it is an amendment to the original contract!
Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to my question (even though I know some of you could not provide legal advise)
What is legal regarding deposit issues can be tricky so honestly it's probably best to ask an attorney. Obviously it depends on what your contract says and what the termination agreement was. Depending on what your deposit was it may not be worth paying an attorney for an opinion. Best of luck!
Erica Jones Starkey
JSCA Real Estate Group
Providing Superior Solutions for Your Individual Real Estate Needs
I recently (two months ago) sued in small claims court (Fremont) my previous Landlord for not returning the security deposit after 21 days of the move out date (California law). I won the claim and the Landlord was ordered to pay the security deposit, the court fees, and a penalty (twice the security deposit amount for bad faith, that's the maximum allowed in California if you can demonstrate to the judge that the Landlord deliberately refused to return the security deposit).
My case is we signed a 6-month lease with the Landlord, then after one month the property management agent of the Landlord asked me whether I would agree to leave the condo earlier because the Landlord lost her house and was in a motel. As a gesture of good faith I accepted (verbal) thinking that I will get my security deposit on time. After 21 days, I contacted directly the Landlord by mail but she refused to refund the security deposit on the basis that the property was left in a mess. She produced fake receipts and pictures. Fortunately, I had the e-mails, the inspection sheets (move in and move out inspections), the lease, and the letters. The Judge gave her 30 days to pay and she did.
You will have to make sure you have all the documents (lease, letters, e-mails) to support your case. If they did not stress in writing that you will not get back your security deposit in exchange for an early termination of your lease, you can sue them and easily win. You will need to read your lease carefully and any documents you have. Security deposit can not be used for penalty. The california law clearly states the purpose of the security deposit and what a Landlord can deduct from it. I even printed the section of the law and took it with me to the court. I was determined to win the case:-).
Good luck to you. Myriam
You have to go back to the contract and review it. If a tenant leaves before the term of the contact is reached the tenant is responsible to pay rent for each month that the landlord can not find a tenant(landlord must make the effort to find a tenant).
Your landlord may have released you from the obligation to be responsible to pay each month rent that he tries and can not find a tenant. The deposit is taken for many reasons. One could be to protect the landlord from a tenant who like to break the contract . I hope you have a copy of the email. Review the email and see if he mentions anything about the deposit. If the deposit money is substantial you may seek an attorney's advise. Or settle the matter in a small claim court.
Realtors are not allowed to give legal advice per our code of ethics. Your questions is asking for a legal opinion of your situation and as such - I'm sorry to say - but you should really be contacting an attorney. Best of luck to you, I'm sorry that you have to go through this. Sounds to me like the owner is changing their story after things didn't work out the way that they wanted.