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.
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.
A landlord can only use the deposit for damage that exceeded normal wear and tear during the lease. Some of these include:
The following are generally held to be normal wear and tear. This means that the landlord cannot use the deposit to repair these:
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.
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.
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:
Depending on the state, a landlord does have some defenses to a lawsuit for the wrongful withholding of a security deposit. These include:
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.
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.
Last Modified: 02-16-2016 12:39 PM PSTLaw Library Disclaimer
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