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Plaintiff tenants were forced to vacate the subject premises when code enforcement ruled the property uninhabitable  due to landlord’s failure to maintain the property.    The landlord did not return the tenant’s security deposit.  In fact, the landlord did not even make a claim against the tenant’s security deposit.  After the thirty the thirty days in which to make a claim had elapsed,  the tenants sent the landlord a civil theft demand letter.   The civil theft statute (Fla. Stat. section 772.11), requires the claimant to send a certified letter to the “thief”  giving them thirty days to return the funds claimed as stolen,  or face triple damages.

The court ruled that landlord’s failure to make a claim against the tenant’s security deposit constituted a forfeiture of the right to make any claim against the deposit.  Further,  the court ruled that landlord’s failure to return the deposit after the tenant made a claim for its return constituted conversion of the funds.   The court noted that the deposit was not maintained in any kind of a separate account,  but had been deposited into landlord’s general operating account.  All of these combined to constitute civil theft and entitle the tenants to triple damages under the civil theft statute, plus attorney fees and court costs under the landlord tenant statute.

SIPP v. FIVE STAR OF CENTRAL FLORIDA, INC., a Florida Corporation, d/b/a Daytona Village Apartments,  Circuit Court, 7th Judicial Circuit in and for Volusia County. Case No. 2010-33080-CICI, Div. 31. January 6, 2011.  18 Fla. L. Weekly Supp. 1143a