Wonderful Q & A article posted on Realtor.com: Are you a renter? Will you be a renter?
If you answered yes, then this article is for you.
A security deposit is an amount of money you pay to your landlord to cover any damage incurred or necessary cleaning of the rental property once your lease has expired. It’s also one of the most common sources of disagreement between landlords and tenants.
Rental laws vary from state to state, with some states dictating certain procedures that landlords must follow for refunding, using and accounting for a tenant’s security deposit. The following tips are some of the basics that every tenant should know about security deposits, because what you don’t know can cost you.
Q: Why is my landlord requiring me to pay a security deposit?
A: Security deposits are a guarantee that you will keep the rental in good condition. If you owe back rent or late fees when you move out, your landlord may deduct that amount from your deposit. Your landlord may also deduct from the deposit the cost of cleaning and repairs beyond normal wear and tear.
Q: How much can my landlord charge for a security deposit?
A: Every state allows landlords to charge a security deposit, but how much they can charge varies. In some states, limits are as low as $100, while others allow for security deposits equal to three months’ rent. Furthermore, 24 states have no statutory limits for how much you can be charged for a security deposit.
Q: What does my landlord do with my deposit during my tenancy?
A: Generally, landlords are required to put security deposits in bank accounts and may not commingle deposits with their own money. Many states require your landlord to notify you where the account is kept; this notification is often detailed in your lease. In some states, these accounts earn interest that you may be entitled to, and in some markets, your landlord may be entitled to a small portion of the accrued interest as an administrative fee.
Q: What can be deducted from my security deposit?
A: Landlords bear the brunt of taking care of the things that wear out in the rental, such as carpeting, floor finishes and fading paint. If you damage the property, repairs are your responsibility. If your child colors on the walls or you accidentally crack a tile in the bathroom, those repairs will come out of your deposit. Even if a guest who doesn’t live with you breaks something, you are liable for those repairs.
Q: When will my deposit be returned?
A: Again, this varies by state, but in general, within 14 to 60 days, your landlord is obligated to return to you:
- Your full deposit (plus interest, in some cases), or
- Part of your deposit, along with a statement of the costs that were deducted from your deposit, with an explanation of how those costs were used for cleaning, repairs or back rent and late fees
Two states have no set limits: Tennessee has no statutory deadline, and New York only requires that deposits be returned within “a reasonable time.”
Q: What can I do to make sure I get back all of my deposit?
A: Carefully document the state of your rental by completing a move-in inspection form. Take pictures of any problems, and use your camera’s time-stamp function or include that day’s newspaper in the photo. You and your landlord should each sign and keep a copy of this form. Before you move out, ask your landlord to walk through your rental with you so that he or she can point out issues you should resolve before you leave. If necessary, hire a professional to clean your apartment.
Q: What if my landlord doesn’t return my security deposit?
A: When you move out, be sure to give your new address to your landlord, and cover your bases by sending a demand letter by certified mail. A demand letter simply requests the return of your deposit. In some states, if you don’t send a demand letter, your landlord may be entitled to keep your deposit.
If your landlord doesn’t respond, you may sue your landlord in small claims court for the return of your deposit. In some locations, if the court finds that your landlord has intentionally broken the law, you may be awarded two or three times the amount of the deposit, plus lawyer’s fees.
Tasha Schroeder contributed to this post.
Do you have any questions or comments? Please let me know!