What To Do When A Tenant Sues You For Their Security Deposit

In Pennsylvania, a tenant is required to provide the landlord with their forwarding address in writing in order to receive the return of their security deposit.  Once the landlord receives the tenant’s forwarding address, the landlord must then return the unused portion of the tenant’s security deposit with an itemized list of damages within thirty (30) days. A landlord is permitted to use the tenant’s security deposit to cover items related to physical damages, unpaid rent, and unpaid utilities that the tenant is responsible for under the terms of the lease. If an itemized list of damages is not sent to the tenant within thirty (30) days of receipt of the tenant’s forwarding address, the landlord will forfeit the right to withhold any portion of the tenant’s security deposit and the tenant is able to seek double the amount of the security deposit.

What if I sent the tenant a list of damages and the tenant still tries to sue me?

I’ve encountered this problem before where a client contacts me to inform me that they’re being sued by a former tenant after notifying the tenant that their security deposit is not being returned since the landlord’s damages exceed the amount of the security deposit. The tenant then tries to claim that they never received the itemized damages letter and now wants to file a lawsuit seeking double the amount of the security deposit (treble damages) for not complying with Pennsylvania’s Landlord-Tenant Act.

To avoid this problem, the letter containing the itemized list of damages should always be sent via certified mail. Sending the letter via regular mail creates the possibility of the tenant claiming that they never received the itemized list of damages.

Additionally, landlords should be more proactive in initiating legal action against the tenant before the tenant initiates legal action against them. Most landlords feel that it’s either too costly or may be a waste of time to chase around a tenant for additional money after the tenant has already vacated the property. However, not taking steps to recover the full amount of damages sets up a tenant to claim that they never received an itemized list of damages.

What to do if you’re being sued by a tenant for the security deposit.

In the event you’re being sued by a tenant for the security deposit, contact an attorney immediately. A counterclaim should be filed against the tenant for the full amount of the damages. A counterclaim must be filed at least five (5) days prior to the scheduled court hearing. Pa. R.C.P.M.D.J. 315.  The hearing would then be rescheduled between 12-30 days from the filing of the counterclaim.

Begin gathering important documentation about the case. Obtain the Lease Agreement, any correspondence (letters, emails, and text messages) between you and the tenant, the itemized list of damages, before and after photos, estimates, invoices, and receipts.

If you are looking for representation in any landlord-tenant matters, feel free to contact me by calling (610) 417-6345.  I am a landlord-tenant law attorney located in Bethlehem, PA, and primarily represent clients located in Northampton and Lehigh County.

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