Carrillo v. Goldberg
Connecticut General Statutes §47a-21(d)(2) allows for landlords to deduct from a tenant's security deposit actual damages, not pretextual damages. The plaintiffs, Luis and Sandra Carrillo, appealed from the trial court's judgment, raising multiple challenges to the award of damages, interest and punitive damages and attorneys' fees under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, C.G.S. §42-110a, for the failure of their former landlords, the defendants, Keith and Leigh Ann Goldberg, to return their security deposit in violation of C.G.S. §47a-21(d). The Appellate Court affirmed and reversed the judgment, in part. The award of $4800 for the defendants' failure to return the $9600 security deposit was improper. C.G.S. §47a-21(d) requires an award of double damages when a tenant's security deposit is not returned in the prescribed manner. While in common parlance a "security deposit" may have a conceptually distinct meaning from an advance payment of periodic rent, under Connecticut law, the term "security deposit" comprises all forms of advance rental payment, regardless of its intended use. Under the definition in C.G.S. §47a-21(a)(10), the security deposit collected from the plaintiffs was $9600. The trial court erred in concluding that the double damages provision in C.G.S. §47a-21(d)(2) was not triggered because the defendants provided a timely accounting of claimed damages. It also found that the defendants' claimed damages were pretextual and calculated to camouflage their mishandling of the security deposit. Because the claimed damages were fabricated, they were not properly withheld. The defendants complied in form only with the requirement of a written accounting of damages. Without also sending the plaintiffs the balance of the security deposit legitimately owed to them, the defendants did not satisfy the statutory requirements and were subject to the double damages provision. The accrued interest owed under C.G.S. §47a-21(i) was miscalculated. The defendants were required to pay interest on the entire $9600 advance rental payment. Further, the court abused its discretion in awarding $2500 in attorneys' fees, a nearly 95 percent reduction in claimed fees. No evidence was offered to show that the claimed fees detailed in plaintiff's counsel's accounting were unreasonable. The matter was remanded.