Dear PoP – How Do I Get my Deposit Back?

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

“Dear PoP,

I tried to not get too long-winded, but I’m looking for neighborly and perhaps legal advice on dealing with a DC landlord that refuses to return a security deposit. Yes, I did break my lease early with 30 day notice. However, I am a very responsible, respectful person and found near 10 qualified and interested potential sublettors. My landlord first gave me the approval to terminate with 30 day notice, via email. She then refused to process any subletter applications because she firmly stood by a 60 day notice requirement. Side note: Our lease states 30 days required. She crossed out the 30, wrote in 60 and initialed next to the edit – without the initials of the renters. I’m told this means she edited our lease without our approval and therefore we never had a lease agreement without the consent of all parties…? She eventually agreed to process those applicants after waiting about 20 days to do so and stopped communicating with me. I moved out as planned. Anyway, landlord paid me a small portion of the owed deposit after the 45 day deadline with no itemized list for deductions, but refused to respond to me about the remaining amount. It’s been about 7 months.

I have since been to the Office of the Tenant Advocate and have additionally obtained certification that 1) Not only is the property not registered as a rental unit 2) She also does not have a business license, required to rent out a property.

I’m a very low income young professional and have never been to court. Getting these documents from DC government has taken me about 4 months. From my understanding, I must file a complaint and request a court date to serve her with. I’m told I could be eligible for 3x the security deposit amount because she has acted out of bad faith in refusal to return what is owed. Do I need a lawyer or can I take on this issue and this landlord myself? Do any readers know of a lawyer that might offer some low cost landlord/tenant legal assistance, perhaps even pro-bono in exchange for… child sitting, dog walking, event planning, bartending, spring time gardening?

Thanks so greatly for posting for any community advice.”

What would you guys advise in this situation?

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