(TNS)—Q: We were going to rent a home in a rental community. We filled out the application and left a $250 deposit. A few days later, we were informed that we were accepted and needed to pay an additional $850 for the deposit. We went and left the check but could not finalize the lease because the manager was not at the office. Over the weekend, we decided that we did not want to rent there and called Monday to ask for our money back. They are refusing. Can they keep our money?
A: No, probably not, or at least not most of it. I am going to use this opportunity to restate some advice that I cannot seem to say enough: Do not sign anything unless and until you read it and understand what it says.
If you are not sure what it means, do not sign until you do. I am going to go out on a limb and assume that your initial $250 “deposit” was an “application fee,” which you agreed to pay somewhere in the fine print of the multi-page application. If this is correct, you have already spent those $250, and they are gone. You should review your copy of the form (always get a copy of everything you sign!) and confirm this. If it was a deposit and not a fee, you should be able to get it back.
The $850 check is going to depend on if and what you signed when you dropped off the check. If you just left it with the office and did not sign the lease documents, they will have to return your money; however, if you signed a lease, you may be liable for your deposit or even some rent, depending on the terms of the contract you signed.
You may have also signed, either at the time of application or when you dropped off the second check, a “reservation” form that holds the unit for you until a lease is fully signed. If this is the case, you will need to review the terms of the reservation to see if you are entitled to a refund.
Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar.
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