A landlord deposit is basically a sum of money that a landlord is able to collect from a tenant if the rental property needs repair or cleaning when the tenant moves out. Landlord deposits are sometimes called “damage deposits” or “security deposits.” They are generally collected at the beginning of the lease, along with the first month’s rent.

Every state allows landlords to collect a security deposit when a tenant moves into a property. The purpose of security deposits is to assure that a tenant pays rent on time and keeps the property in good condition. Half of the states place limitations on how much a security deposit can be. In addition, there are usually limitations on how a security deposit can be used by a landlord.

Landlords are allowed to make deductions from your security deposits, but only for damages to the property or other special circumstances. Landlords are also usually required to provide itemized accounts for any deductions with payment of the balance of the deposit.

Can I Get My Landlord Security Deposit back At the End of a Lease?

Yes- your landlord is generally required to return the security deposit to the tenant at the end of the lease, minus any allowable expenses. In some jurisdictions and states, security deposit laws allow the landlord to deduct money from the security deposit for excessive damage and dirtiness. They are not allowed to use the deposit to remedy normal wear-and-tear. 

In most cases the instructions and limitations regarding a damages deposit will be spelled out in the lease itself. You should read your lease carefully before signing it, making note of any provisions that deal with deposits. If you are unsure of how a potential landlord will treat your security deposit, you should ask them about it or consider signing a different lease.

What Can and Cannot Be Deducted from my Damages Deposit?

A landlord can only use the deposit for damage that exceeded normal wear and tear during the lease.  Some of these include: 

  • Excessive amounts of dirt, mess, mold, mildew, or filth
  • Broken items, furnishings, fixtures, windows, doors, and locks
  • Damaged or destroyed paint
  • Holes, breaks, and cracks in the walls or ceilings caused by the tenant
  • Clogged or stopped toilets, drains, sinks, and bathtubs due to misuse
  • Construction additions or remodeling that were not approved by the landlord
  • Destruction or stains caused by pets or animals
  • Missing or broken window screens and blinds
  • Other damages due to neglect or reckless conduct

The following are generally held to be normal wear and tear. This means that the landlord cannot use the deposit to repair these:

  • Dirty carpets, blinds, or curtains from normal use
  • Faded wallpaper or paint caused by sunlight
  • Marks in the carpet from furniture
  • Warped windows, window sills, doors, or doorframes caused by moisture or extreme temperature
  • Dust
  • Dents in the walls caused by door handles (not holes)
  • Dead batteries in smoke detectors
  • Normal wear on appliances not caused by misuse
  • Normal wear on plumbing or fixtures

Thus, the basic distinction here is whether the damage was caused by normal wear and tear, or whether the tenant caused further damage due to neglect or misuse. 

If the damage was caused by normal wear and tear, then the landlord has an obligation to make repairs using their own funds, not the security deposit. If the tenant was responsible in some way for the damage, then the landlord may use a part of the deposit to repair it.

What If the Landlord Did Not Return My Damages Deposit?

If your landlord is wrongfully withholding your security deposit, you may be able to file a lawsuit compelling them to return your money. You should review your lease or contract and identify the provisions related to deposits. 

You may also be able to file a claim if your landlord returned only a portion of your deposit but did not explain the deductions in writing. If your landlord uses some of the security deposit for repairs, they should provide a written account which explains what they did with your money. Some states require a landlord to provide a receipt for repairs over a certain amount of money. 

The best thing to do is to conduct a walkthrough of the property before you move out. Take note of any damages or things that need repair. Try your best to classify whether they are normal wear and tear, or if you contributed to the damage in some way. That way you have an estimate of the different repairs that need to be made, before the landlord uses your deposit. 

How Large of a Security Deposit Can My Landlord Require?

In half the states, there are no limitations on how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit. The other half of the states do place restrictions on how much your landlord can charge and these restrictions vary from state to state. On average, landlords are restricted to 1 to 2 months rent as a security deposit. Here are some examples:

  • Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas: No limitation on security deposits
  • California: 2 months’ rent if the unit is unfurnished and the tenant does not have a waterbed
  • Arizona: One and a half months’ rent, unless the tenant agrees to more
  • Massachusetts: 2 months’ rent
  • New Jersey: One and a half months’ rent

Does the Landlord Have Any Defenses?

Depending on the state, a landlord does have some defenses to a lawsuit for the wrongful withholding of a security deposit. These include:

  • A good-faith reason for keeping the security deposit
  • The tenant damaged the property
  • The tenant did not pay rent and the landlord keeps the deposit to pay the balance

In some states, the failure of a tenant to give written notice to the landlord of their intent to sue for the wrongful withholding of their security deposit is grounds for dismissal of the suit.

Do I need a Lawyer for Landlord Deposit Issues?

The laws governing landlord deposits may vary widely by jurisdiction. For example, some states may differ on the timeframe for when the landlord needs to return your damages deposit (anywhere from 15-60 days depending on the state). If you have any issues at all with a landlord deposit, you should contact a landlord tenant lawyer for advice. Your attorney can also represent you in court if you need to file a claim.