admin January 6, 2019

Dear Moneyist,

My mother has been getting ready to move from Connecticut to Tennessee and, sadly, about a week after she gave her landlord 45 days’ notice, he passed away. She got in touch with his family, a couple of whom have been handling small repairs and picking up rent checks and, after offering condolences, asked them to whom she should make out the next (and final) rent check.

They told her that “the state” of Connecticut had taken his home and the rental property she lived in because he owed them money, and advised her not to pay her last month’s rent, as they were sure she wouldn’t be able to get her deposit back.

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Her deposit is significantly larger than her last month’s rent, and this whole thing sounds fishy to me. Wouldn’t his estate — and debts — be settled through probate? Shouldn’t there be some court record of the state having taken possession of the properties? And if the state takes your rental properties, are they allowed to confiscate deposit accounts containing monies that properly belong to the tenant — not the landlord?

Kit in Oklahoma

Dear Kit,

It’s amazing what an attorney’s letter can do. It is a remarkably effective call to action.

Your mother should take photos of the apartment to protect her against accusations that she has not kept it in good condition. She should also keep all emails discussing this matter. Then follow up with a written letter sent by certified mail. If that fails, it’s time for a solicitor’s letter. If your mother does not get satisfaction, she could pursue this case in her local small claims court where she can also claim attorney’s fees and punitive damages. Here are some frequently-asked questions about the small claims court in Connecticut.

She should certainly not pay the final month’s rent — and note that her landlord’s family suggested this — and seek the difference between that and her deposit. The landlord’s family is clearly banking on her deciding this is too much trouble, and must be aware that she is moving out of state. But she doesn’t have to live in Connecticut to seek legal representation there. Yes, there should be a court record of the state filing a lien on her landlord’s properties through public records in her county but, assuming that it has only been a matter of weeks since her landlord died, his estate should still be going through probate.

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Some caveats. Your mother should weigh up the pros and cons of pursuing this. Is it worth it? As one member points out on this column’s Facebook Group: “Before you go too crazy worrying about the security deposit give some real thought to the costs involved in fighting them. You may be better off just taking them up on using part of the security for the last month’s rent.”

Another adds that you should not assume the family members who have been doing the repairs are the executors of the estate and suggests “you should contact the probate court in the deceased’s county of residence to determine who the executor is.”

It’s a hassle, perhaps too much of a hassle for the amount of money at stake. But the landlord’s family are betting your mother will think so too.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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(This story was republished on Jan. 6, 2019.)

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