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What is a Security Deposit? 

A security deposit is money paid by a tenant to a landlord to cover expenses if a tenant later breaks the lease or damages the rental unit.  When you move out, if you leave the unit in good condition and have paid the rent in full, your landlord must return the full amount of your security deposit.

Landlord’s Obligations with Regard to a Security Deposit

Within 30 days after the end of the lease and the time you move out (and return the keys to landlord), your landlord is required to do either of the following things:

  1. Return the full security deposit to you
  2. Explain in writing what your deposit was used for. For example, the written explanation might state: total of $50 withheld, $30 to spot clean living room carpet, and $20 to fix broken door.  If your security deposit was $200, you should receive $150 back.

Tenant’s Obligations

  1. Give your landlord notice that you’re leaving.  Check your lease for how much notice is required.  Usually it’s 30 days if you pay rent monthly. If you give too little notice you may have to pay another month’s rent.
  2. Give your landlord a forwarding address in writing where you can receive mail.
  3. Clean the apartment and return the keys to your landlord.

When Can My Landlord Legally Keep Part of My Security Deposit?

1. If you left the unit dirty or damaged, your landlord may deduct from your deposit the cost of any cleaning or repairs needed. Your landlord may not use your security deposit to fix “ordinary wear and tear.”

  • You should not be charged for damage present when you moved in.
  • You should not be charged for replacement when a repair would do.
  • The longer you have lived in a place, the more wear and tear can be expected on things like carpets, floors, and walls.
  • You should be charged a fair price for repairs and replacements.

2. If you left the apartment without paying all the rent due, your landlord may deduct from your deposit the amount of any unpaid rent or utility charges you were responsible for under the lease.  This unpaid rent claim usually happens in one of the following ways:  

  • You are behind on the rent; you give notice of your intent to leave and leave as planned.  Your landlord can deduct what you owe for past rent..
  • You give notice of your intent to leave and stay longer than you planned. Your landlord can deduct from your security deposit to pay for the additional days you stayed.
  • You lease your unit on a month-to-month basis and leave as planned, but you give too little notice of your intent to leave (usually 30 days).  Your landlord can deduct an additional month’s rent from your security deposit.

What Can I Do If My Landlord Does Not Refund the Security Deposit and Does Not Send a Written Explanation About Why My Money Was Not Returned?


Write your landlord a letter asking for return of your deposit and a written explanation why any of your deposit is not being returned and what it is being used to pay for.  Include an address where your deposit can be sent.  Send the letter to your landlord by certified mail and request a return receipt.  Keep a copy of the letter and the receipt showing the letter was delivered to your landlord.  This is important to prove you sent the letter and your landlord received it.  You can fill in the blanks on the sample letter contained in this packet or write your own.

If your landlord does not respond, write a second letter demanding return of the full deposit and threatening to file a lawsuit in small claims court if you do not receive the money by a certain date.  You can fill in the blanks on the sample letter contained in this packet or write your own.  If your landlord still does not return your deposit, you can file in small claims court.

What If My Landlord Doesn’t Have Good Reason to Keep My Security Deposit?


After you receive the written explanation from your landlord, write your landlord to state why you think certain deductions should not have been made.  Ask for that money back.  Send the letter to your landlord by certified mail and request a return receipt.  Keep a copy of the letter and the receipt showing the letter was delivered to your landlord.  You can fill in the blanks on the sample letters contained in this packet or write your own.

If your landlord does not respond to this request or refuses to refund any of your deposit, you can file a lawsuit in small claims court.

 

For more information see CLAS’ Fact Sheet :
MOVING OUT- Making Sure You Do What's Required

 

This article is meant to give you general information and not to give you specific legal advice.
Prepared by Community Legal Aid Services, Inc. CE-63-F206-CLAS

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