My management company mismanaged my deposit refund

It’s been over two months since Rebecca Horowitz moved out of her apartment – but she’s still waiting for the management company to return her security deposit. Can our advocates turn up the heat and persuade the management company to come up with a check for Horowitz?

Question: I paid a security deposit of $1,106 when I moved into my old apartment at The Point, a student-living complex in Ewing, N.J., which is managed by Mercer Management.

When my roommates and I moved out, an employee of Mercer contacted me to ask me for my current mailing address so that it could mail me a check for my security deposit. Although I provided my new address, I never received the check. I emailed Mercer several times since then, and Mercer’s agent responded each time that my security deposit was on its way.

After two months and six calls, I’m still waiting for Mercer to send me the check. Can you help me get Mercer to follow through on its promise to refund my security deposit? — Rebecca Horowitz, Ewing, N.J.

Answer: I’m sorry it’s taken you so long to receive your security deposit – especially since under New Jersey landlord-tenant law, Mercer was required to return it to you within 30 days of your moving out. You should have received it over a month ago at the latest.

Your story illustrates the importance of maintaining a paper trail when making a request for help to a company. Paper trails establish transactions and agreements between consumers and companies, documenting each party’s obligations to one another.

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If you only had telephone contacts with Mercer, your case would have been hard for us to resolve. Our advocates have seen numerous instances of consumers receiving verbal promises from customer service agents that are ultimately uncollectible because they have no paper trails to back them up.

Luckily, you had a compelling paper trail proving that you had repeatedly requested your security deposit after moving out and that Mercer had promised it to you. This paper trail was crucial to our being able to assist you. Our advocates contacted the property manager at The Point, who spoke to Mercer’s corporate office several times on your behalf.

Apparently, there was some question about whether you and your roommates were going to renew your lease or take another apartment in the complex. You were transferred into another unit, which caused some confusion because when you decided to leave altogether, the accounting department didn’t receive this information.

The accounting department cut a check for your security deposit refund, but it assumed that you were still living at The Point and redeposited the check in its escrow account by mistake. According to the property manager, “It was just a big error on the system’s part.”

After a number of telephone conversations and emails, Mercer’s corporate office has confirmed that it has mailed you the security deposit refund. You have since notified us that you have received the check from Mercer.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for

  • Dan

    I’m glad you were able to put pressure on the management company to provide the promised deposit, but this landlord got off easy. NJ is a very tenant friendly state if I were in the LW’s position, I would have visited a lawyer after the first 30 days.

    NJ laws allow courts to award treble (triple) damages as the tenant’s compensation for a delayed security deposit along with attorney’s fees. “Big error[s] on the system’s part” are not exempted from the law. The purpose steep damages is to prevent landlords from using stall tactics to con their tenants out of their deposits.

  • MF

    Presumably it’s not too late to go for treble damages, the check’s receipt likely does not absolve the company of responsibility, it only documents the delay as being longer than 30 days?

  • Dan

    Right on. The damages are still on the table. But I think once most people get the deposit back, they just want to move on and not go through the trouble of suing. It would be a good way to pay it forward though since it would probably help future tenants get their deposits on time.

    P.S. Security deposits in NJ are a maximum of 1.5x monthly rent and all the places I’ve rented here have always required the maximum. So the deposit usually ties up a good chunk of change for the average person.

  • Chris_In_NC

    Sorry to be cynical…. but did the check clear???
    Only then would I consider the case closed

  • greg watson

    ….again…………another…..error / mistake………….that favours the business………hmmmm

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    While I totally agree, there is an observation bias at play here because error/mistakes that favor the customer probably won’t usually solicit help from a consumer advocate. (I can imagine a rare case where you received a benefit/money and are having trouble returning it).

  • Inquirer1111

    When I moved out of a condo I was renting in Miami, FL a few years ago, I had the same thing happen. But this was an individual, not a landlord. And I paid the last month rent, even though I had paid that up front, so I was looking for that back too. That’s where some of the dispute was on (math issues). I was paying for a legal service and they helped me write letters and called them, but we just went around in circles with him. Finally I sued him in smalls claims court. We showed up for the preliminary hearing and the judge told us to work it out or it would not be pretty. My attorney continued to contact him and about a 2 weeks before the court date, he said his wife’s health wasn’t doing well and gave us the full amount + court fees. It took 6 months, and it was stressful, but we got it.

  • Carol Molloy

    I am very skeptical of management companies that manage student living apartments. Have signed many such leases for my children when students, I have been appalled both at the terms that are permitted in Illinois law, and the difficulty getting deposits returned. These companies know these are not long term tenants, and seem to have little interest in providing good service. I finally began obtaining leases off campus, where the lease agreements were more reasonable.

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