Tenant May Recover Double Damages Even In Small Claims Court
Ohio Revised Code section 5321.16 permits tenants to recover any part of their deposit that was wrongfully
withheld by the landlord as well as double that amount, attorney's fees, court costs and interest. In this case,
the landlord attempted to argue that these types of damages were punitive in nature and beyond the jurisdiction of
a small claims court.
Landlord was found by the Small Claims Court to have wrongfully withheld a portion of Tenant's security deposit.
The Small Claims Court awarded double damages to Tenant. Landlord appealed the Small Claims Court's award of double
damages because under Ohio Law [R.C. 1925.02], Small Claims Court does not have the jurisdiction to award punitive
damages. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the double damages [and presumably attorney fees] awards recoverable
pursuant to Ohio Revised Code Section 5321.16 are not in the nature of "punitive damages" and therefore may indeed
be recovered in Small Claims Court. The Court reasoned as follows:
Because the double damages provision does not require the essential element of proof of culpable mental state,
we hold that damages recoverable pursuant to R.C. 5321.16 are not "punitive damages" under former R.C. 1925.02(A)(2)(c)
and are not excluded from the jurisdiction of small claims divisions of municipal and county courts.
Klemas v. Flynn (1993), 66 Ohio St.3d 249
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