Your landlord may ask you for a security deposit, which is money to pay for any damages beyond normal wear and tear that happens during the time you live in the home. Damages include not only damaged property, but also failure to clean, pay rent, pay late fees, or give seven or 30 days’ notice before you move (depending on your lease). A security deposit is not an advanced payment of rent.
If your landlord owns six or more properties or has someone manage or collect rent on his property, certain laws apply. Under these laws, a landlord may not ask for more than two months’ rent as a security deposit. For example, if your rent is $300 per month, the landlord cannot charge you over $600 as a security deposit. Within 60 days of the lease termination, they must return the security deposit to you or give you a list of damages you have done and the amount they have withheld from the security deposit to repair those damages. If the landlord does not do these things, you may be entitled to twice the amount of the deposit plus costs and attorneys’ fees.
If your landlord owns five or fewer properties, those laws do not apply. For this reason, it is very important to have a written lease or rental agreement with your landlord stating how much the security deposit is, what it will take to get back, and when you can expect to receive it. You still may sue your landlord in small claims court for the return of your security deposit, but he may counterclaim against you for any unpaid rent or damage to the home.
Your landlord does not have to give you back your deposit at the same time you move out. Make sure that your landlord knows your new address so they can return your security deposit. If your landlord returns your deposit to your last known address (which can be the place you just moved from) and it comes back, the landlord only has to make a “reasonable” attempt to find you. After 180 days, if your landlord cannot find you, they can keep your entire deposit.
Leave the landlord your new address or an address where you can be contacted. If you leave without giving a proper notice, check to see whether someone else moves in. You may still be able to get some of your security deposit back if your landlord rents the home to someone else.
Give the landlord pictures or a list of any damages that are present when you move in. Keep a copy of the pictures or a list for your records so when you move out, you are not charged for damages you did not cause.
Leave the home clean, keep receipts for cleaning, and take pictures of the home when you leave. Furthermore, have an independent witness verify that the home was clean when you left, and, if possible, have your witness be someone who saw the home when you moved in.
Try to have an independent witness with you when you talk to your landlord about a problem. It is even better to put all communications with your landlord in writing. With that said, ask for all promises from your landlord to be in writing.
Damages can include damaged property. If you do not clean the home, pay rent, pay late fees, or give a 30-day notice before you move out, then the landlord can keep the security deposit.
If there are not any damages beyond normal wear and tear, then the landlord must return the security deposit to you or give you a list of damages. This list should include the damages that you have done and the amount withheld from the security deposit to repair those damages.