The landlord has violated the Florida statute governing the return of your deposit. Now, the landlord has no legal right to retain it. Specifically, the relevant provision of Section 83.49 provides as follows:
"(3) The landlord or the landlord’s agent may disburse advance rents from the deposit account to the landlord’s benefit when the advance rental period commences and without notice to the tenant. For all other deposits:
(a) Upon the vacating of the premises for termination of the lease, if the landlord does not intend to impose a claim on the security deposit, the landlord shall have 15 days to return the security deposit together with interest if otherwise required, or the landlord shall have 30 days to give the tenant written notice by certified mail to the tenant’s last known mailing address of his or her intention to impose a claim on the deposit and the reason for imposing the claim. The notice shall contain a statement in substantially the following form:
This is a notice of my intention to impose a claim for damages in the amount of upon your security deposit, due to . It is sent to you as required by s. 83.49(3), Florida Statutes. You are hereby notified that you must object in writing to this deduction from your security deposit within 15 days from the time you receive this notice or I will be authorized to deduct my claim from your security deposit. Your objection must be sent to (landlord’s address) .
If the landlord fails to give the required notice within the 30-day period, he or she forfeits the right to impose a claim upon the security deposit and may not seek a setoff against the deposit but may file an action for damages after return of the deposit."
So, what you want to do now is file suit against the landlord. Any claim up to $5,000 can be filed in small claims court without a lawyer. Filing the suit will give you the collection options and leverage you need to collect the debt owed you. That's because once the suit is filed and a judgment awarded, you become a judgment creditor, and if they don't then pay the judgment, you can have the sheriff serve a summons on them for a debtor examination. That forces them to meet you in court again and answer questions under oath about their assets. After that information is obtained, you have the power to attach bank accounts, have the sheriff seize other personal property, and/or place liens on any real property he they own to satisfy the judgment. In my experience, simply filing the suit is typically all you need to do to resolve this outside of court because most of the time, once served with a summons one is being sued, they will return your deposit rather than face this suit.
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