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Hands off our money! Or what means the “refundable deposit”

In our initiative, we have come across cases where landlords do not want to return the security deposit even though the tenant is fully entitled to a refund. The story of our member Nofar shows that confronting the landlord and asserting your rights makes sense, even if as a tenant you are pulling the short end of the rope. Read how we helped Nofar pull that rope tight. 

Our member Nofar had a short-term sublet agreement for 4 months with an option to extend. However, due to manipulative and abusive behavior of the landlord she did not want to stay in the apartment and needed to move out sooner. After long deliberation, the landlord agreed and shortened the contract by 3 weeks, but after that he started to drag his feet on the mentioning of the deposit.

At this stage, we had been consulting the situation with Nofar and agreed to accompany her to the final handover of the apartment. This is how we work in our Initiative – we go to viewings together, to meetings about the contract, but we also accompany the tenants to the final handover of the apartment – just in an effort to prevent unfair behavior on the part of the owner. Nofar was glad for the accompaniment because she was afraid to meet the owner alone. He had originally wanted to meet at night hours, which Nofar found suspicious as she mentioned that the communication with the owner was dishonest from the beginning. The landlord took advantage of the fact that Nofar was not from the Czech Republic and instead of a traditional lease contract, he prepared a sublease contract for her, which is disadvantageous for the tenant. 

We also found out that the landlord lied about the condition of the flat, as the malfunctions were disclosed only after the tenant’s entry to the apartment and needed regular arrivals of handymen to the flat. The landlord also came for regular visits in the apartment, which doesn’t quite make sense for a short-term rental. It should also be added that Nofar cleaned and organized the apartment, therefore in the handover the flat was in a better condition than when she moved in. Despite this the owner apparently did not want to return the deposit. 

The actual meeting with the owner was not pleasant. The landlord initially refused that we accompany Nofar during the handover process, denied our entry and threatened us by calling a lawyer and the police. His unsuccessful attempt to call a lawyer prolonged the meeting for another 20 minutes. We withstood the pressure and eventually got into the apartment to supervise the process.

Our priority was to make sure that the landlord did not try to credit our member with some fictitious damages, and thus extract more money from her. We emphatically told the owner that he had to return the security deposit and also the overpaid utility bills. We could easily prove the overpayment by comparing the electricity and gas meters, which Nofar had all photographed.

He was constantly looking for ways to get out of the refund of the deposit and overpaid utility bills. At times the landlord pretended not to understand us, and on other occasions he attempted to disrupt the communication by avoiding speaking in English. Instead, he was speaking in Czech (that Nofar doesn’t understand), or his native language (which our members don’t know). When Nofar went to call her lawyer, the landlord tried to turn our members against her suggesting they should not trust or believe her.

The landlord did eventually return the deposit, within a month of the handover the flat. However, the 30-day time limit is also not standard – by law, the owner must return the deposit right away. Eventually, even the overpayment for utilities was returned by the owner. However, the return was not without constant reminders and assertion of our rights, which meant additional effort and, most importantly, stress for Nofar. If the owner had been fair from the start and had not wanted to cheat Nofar, she would not have had to go through this traumatic round of uncertainty, nerves and stress.

Have you experienced anything like this? Or are you dealing with moving out and worried that the landlord won’t want to return the deposit? Join us so we can fight together for better rights for tenants in the Czech Republic. Our goal is to help tenants in need and solve problems together through organizing.