Evanston Security Deposit Return
In this case the tenants were four Northwestern University students renting a house in Evanston on Hamlin Street. The Landlord withheld most of the $3,300 deposit and did not send the deposit back or any written explanation for the deductions in the 21 days allowed by the Evanston Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance. Before we filed anything in court for these students, we sent the landlord a letter. Their lawyer sent us a reply denying everything.
We talked to the Tenants about the letter but the Tenants still thought they were right. They'd given a $3,300 security deposit and gotten just $606.44 back. They had kept the postmarked envelope that the Landlord sent, and they believed the law said that they were right based on its plain language.
We filed the case, and at trial the judge agreed that the Landlord sent the written accounting for the deposit late, but ruled that this was a minor violation and so the Landlord should not face any consequence for the violation. The judge did agree that the Landlord had unfairly withheld $1,750 from the security deposit, based on evidence that the apartment was already not in great condition when the Tenants moved in.
Fortunately, the Appellate Court agreed that the law either means what it says, or really has no meaning. That Court also explained the reason there needs to be a penalty, and attorney fees. Because the Tenants could not have hired a lawyer or afforded to appeal a case if the most they could win is the $1,750 the Landlord unfairly withheld.