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By using small claims court, tenants in most states can sue for money damages over a whole host of landlord violations–failure to return a cleaning or damage deposit, invasion of the tenant's privacy, violation of the duty to provide safe and habitable premises, and rent control violations, to name but a few. In addition, a group of tenants or neighbors can individually (but simultaneously) sue a landlord who tolerates an illegal or even legal but highly annoying situation on the rental property. For example, if ten tenants sue a landlord who tolerates drug dealing for $7,500 each, the landlord would face $75,000 worth of lawsuits.
Although the majority of cases are initiated by tenants, landlords also can and do use small claims court–for example, to sue a former tenant for damages done to the rental property. In some states, it is also possible for a landlord to use small claims court to evict a tenant. (See the Appendix for state-by-state information.) This is an exception to the general rule that only money damage cases can be handed down by small claims court–but it's an exception landlords may find hard to take advantage of, as discussed in "Evictions," below.