The general purpose of a security deposit is to ensure that a tenant pays their rent and cares for the unit.

How Much Can a Landlord Collect for a Security Deposit?

Many states limit the amount collected for a security deposit. Some permit an amount equal to one or two months of rent. Some require the deposit be placed in an account and the tenant paid interest. 

When Must a Landlord Return a Security Deposit?

Not all states have timeframes for the return a security deposit. Of the states that do have a timeframe, it may be as short as two weeks. You may confer with a lawyer to discuss the security deposit laws of your state.

Tips for tenants and landlords to prevent a security deposit dispute: 

  • Walk through the unit together before a move-in and move-out and take pictures
  • During the move-in and move-out, reach an agreement about the unit’s condition

Tips for tenants to prevent a security deposit dispute: 

  • Clean unit before move-out
  • Return keys
  • Leave forwarding address

What Amount May a Landlord Withhold?

The amount withheld from the security deposit must be reasonable for the damage claimed. There are many considerations in calculating the cost of replacement. For example, a tenant should only pay for the remaining life of a product. If a carpet has a life of 5 years and the carpet is damaged beyond repair in the 4th year, the tenant may be charged for 1/5th the cost of replacement. 

What Cannot Be Withheld by a Landlord?

  • Damage noted when the tenant moved in
  • Normal wear and tear 

What Do You Mean by Damage?

Damage is anything broken by a tenant or their guests. A landlord may charge for damage and in some states may be required to provide the tenant with an itemized list. Examples include: broken windows, holes in the wall, animal stains, and excessive filth.

What Do You Mean by Wear and Tear?

Generally, wear and tear refers to the depreciation that occurs from ordinary use of the property. A landlord may not charge a tenant with the cost of wear and tear. Examples of wear and tear include: worn carpet, faded paint, warped doors and a few pin holes in the walls. 

My Landlord Has Not Returned My Security Deposit, What Can I Do?

A landlord who fails to return a security deposit or fails to follow state security deposit laws may be sued. Often this may be accomplished through small claims court. If the landlord acted in bad faith, a tenant may recover their full deposit, damages and attorneys’ fees. Consult a lawyer to discuss your options.

Know the Law that Applies to You

Landlord/tenant law may vary locally as well as by state. Find out which laws apply to you by consulting a landlord-tenant lawyer or by consulting your local tenants union. Your lawyer can instruct you on important issues, such as what the purpose of a security deposit is, and how it will affect your living situation.