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Suing Your Landlord in Small Claims Court: How to Get Your Security Deposit Back

Step 1: Before you move out. Take pictures after you have cleaned and made repairs.  Gather up the following things:
1) the full name, address, and telephone number of your landlord;
2) evidence to support your claim, including:

  • a copy of your signed lease or rental agreement;
  • any agreements with your landlord about security deposits; and
  • photos you have taken of the rental unit;

3) the names and addresses of witnesses who are familiar with the rental unit.  They should have seen it before you moved in and after you left;
4) copies of all letters you sent to your landlord about your security deposit;
5) cash or money order to pay the filing fee.

Step 2:  Take the items you have gathered to the Small Claims Division of the municipal or county court where your landlord lives or where the rental unit was located.

Step 3:  Ask the Clerk of Court how you can file a Small Claims lawsuit, the amount of the filing fee, and how you can get this fee back if you win the case.  In most Small Claims Courts, the clerk will have you fill out a form called a “Small Claims Information Sheet.”  Fill in the form completely and print neatly.  You are the “Plaintiff” and your landlord is the “Defendant.”

Under the heading “Complaint,” write the following information:
1) My landlord is wrongfully withholding my security deposit.  I am requesting “double damages” under Ohio Landlord/Tenant Law. 
2) I moved out of the rental unit on _______________ and gave the keys to the landlord;
3) I gave the landlord an address where my security deposit could be sent. 
4) My landlord should have returned the security deposit to me on ________.  (This date is 30 days after you moved out and returned the keys);
5) My landlord has not returned any of my deposit despite my demands to do so.  My landlord is ____ days late in returning my deposit
6) My landlord has returned a portion of my deposit ($ _________) and refuses to return the remaining money despite my demand to do so;
7) My full deposit should be returned because:

  • I paid my rent in full;
  • I cleaned the rental unit and left it in satisfactory condition without damage or more than usual wear and tear (as clean, if not cleaner, than when I moved in)

8) Return the completed form to the Clerk of Court and pay the filing fee.

Step 4:  The Court will set a hearing date (usually several weeks after filing). Mark the date on your calendar.  The Court will send your landlord a notice (summons) stating that he/she is being sued by you and the hearing date.  Your landlord will have the chance to respond to your claims in writing. 

Your Landlord’s Potential Responses:

  • He/she may not respond at all in writing.
  • He/she may file an “answer” to deny some or all of the information in your “complaint.”
  • He/she may file a “counterclaim” against you if you have not paid all your rent or should pay more money because your security deposit did not cover the cost of cleaning and/or repairs.

Check with the court at least one day before the hearing to make sure that the summons was served.  If it was not served, the Court will change the date of the trial.

Step 5:  Prepare for the hearing by doing the following things:
1)    Contact your witnesses to make sure that they can come to court on the date of the hearing.
2)    Practice what you plan to say at the hearing.  A good way to present your case is to tell the judge what happened in the order of when it actually happened.  You will only be given a few minutes to present your case. Keep it short and focus only on important things.

For example: “My landlord, Slick Susie, hasn’t returned my $750 security deposit and it has been almost two months since I moved out of her apartment at 1492 Dump Avenue. I have sent two letters to Slick Susie requesting that she return my deposit.  She did not respond to these letters at all.  State law says she is supposed to return my deposit within 30 days.  She has not done so.  When I moved out, the apartment was clean, nothing was damaged, and my rent was paid in full.”

Step 6:  Attend the Hearing. 

To learn how to present your case and collect a debt if you win, see CLAS facts sheets:
Representing Yourself in Court
Collecting a Debt


This article is meant to give you general information and not to give you specific legal advice.
Prepared by Community Legal Aid Services, Inc. Updated March 2012. CE-63-BR198-CLAS

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