Getting Your Security Deposit Back

Return of Your Security Deposit

Do you get the security deposit back? 

Within thirty (30) days after the termination of the lease, the landlord must give the tenant:

  1. A written list of any damages for which the landlord claims the tenant is responsible, with payment of the difference between the security deposit money plus interest (if any) and money used to pay for damages or
  2. A check for the entire amount of the security deposit

If the landlord fails to do either one of the above within 30 days, he or she has given up the right to withhold any of the security deposit or interest and given up the right to sue the tenant in court for damages. On the 31st day, the tenant can sue the landlord for double the amount of the security deposit held in escrow plus interest (if any). Note that if the tenant did not provide a forwarding address or returned the keys, the landlord cannot be held to the 30-day deadline.

Contesting Damages Charged to Your Security Deposit

The landlord should not charge the tenant for ordinary wear and tear. For example, if a landlord decided the apartment needed to be repainted at the end of a lease, a tenant should not be charged for the repainting unless the tenant caused more than normal wear.

What Is Normal Wear & Tear?

Normal wear and tear is the ordinary deterioration of a property due to normal everyday use. It is not damage caused by abuse or neglect. There is a difference between normal wear and tear and damage done to a property. Carpet that is matted is normal wear and tear. Burns or stains on a carpet is damage caused by negligence. Fading or yellowing paint is considered normal wear and tear. Large stains in carpet or holes in the wall are compensable damages to the landlord.

What Can the Security Deposit Be Used For?

What can a landlord deduct from a security deposit? Your landlord may retain some or all of the security deposit to make repairs for damage other than normal wear and tear. Your landlord can keep your security deposit to cover any unpaid rent at the end of the lease term. A security deposit may also be forfeited if you break the lease. The landlord can charge you for cleaning a rental unit after move-out if you failed to do so—but the charges should be reasonable and only bring the property back to the condition it was in before you moved in.

You should not be held responsible for damages caused by previous tenants. By using the Checklist for Inspection of Rental Unit, a tenant can note any damages within the lease premises that existed before moving into the unit. Documentary evidence, eyewitnesses, and photographs are particularly helpful in establishing the fact that damages existed prior to tenancy. This type of evidence is extremely valuable should the tenant desire to sue the landlord for recovery of a wrongfully held security deposit.

Steps to Get Your Security Deposit Back When You Move

  • Give the landlord proper notice that you will be moving.
  • This notice must be in accordance with the provisions of your lease. You will need to read your lease to see where the Notice to Vacate should be delivered and how much notice must be given to terminate your lease.
  • Be sure to give the landlord your new address in writing at or before the time you move out. You must do this even if it does not say so in your lease. See Sample Letter – Notice to Vacate/ Forwarding Address for Return of Security Deposit
  • It is best to send this notice by certified mail, “return receipt requested”. If you are not sure what your new address will be, give your landlord the address of a relative. Keep copies of all letters you send, the receipts for sending letters by certified mail and the return receipts.
  • Clean the dwelling unit as thoroughly as possible before moving out. Keep receipts for the rental or purchase of any cleaning equipment, for example, the rental of a steam cleaner for cleaning the carpet. Remember to clean the inside of the stove and the refrigerator, and dispose of any trash. Do not leave anything behind.
  • Make sure you do not owe any rent.
  • Try to get your landlord to inspect the dwelling unit with you.
  • Take photographs of the empty premises. This is the time to go over your pictures, checklist, or any other documentation of damages that you prepared when you moved into the apartment or house.
  • Return the keys to the landlord. If possible, get a receipt for any money owed that is paid to the landlord at this time.

Remember, if proper notice is not given, you are potentially breaching your lease and may forfeit your security deposit. If you do not formally end your lease, owe rent, or have not returned the keys, your landlord may refuse to return your security deposit.

See Sample Letter: Notice to Vacate/Forwarding Address for Return of Security Deposit 

What to Do If Your Landlord Has Not Returned Your Security Deposit

How long does it take to get my security deposit back? Your landlord has thirty (30) days to return your security deposit. If your landlord has failed to return the security deposit and provide you with a written list of damages within thirty (30) days, or if your landlord has failed to pay you the difference between the amount of the security deposit and actual damages to the rental unit within thirty (30) days, the landlord has forfeited:

  • All rights to keep any portion of the security deposit (including interest) and
  • All rights to sue the tenant for damages to the rental unit (however, the landlord may still sue the tenant for collection of unpaid rent or breach of lease).

You can file a civil complaint with the Magisterial District Court and sue the landlord for double the amount of the security deposit (including interest, if applicable). The landlord will not be able to file a counterclaim for damages.

If the landlord has provided you with a list of damages and a refund within thirty (30) days and you disagree with the amount of the damages, you can file a civil complaint with the Magisterial District Court. You will have to prove that the landlord has improperly charged you for damages. Again, the pictures, checklist, and other documentation will be helpful for this process. The landlord is entitled to file a counterclaim against you.

You will have to pay filing fees to the Magisterial District Court in order to file a civil complaint, however you can ask that the landlord reimburse you for these charges. If the Judge’s decision is in your favor, the filing fees and expenses should be paid by the landlord. If you go to Court, you should bring the following documents (if they exist):

  • Your written lease
  • Documentation or proof that you returned the key(s)
  • Documentation or proof that you provided the landlord with a forwarding address
  • A copy of any correspondence that you sent requesting the security deposit back
  • A copy of any correspondence from the landlord explaining why the full amount of the security deposit was not returned.
  • All rent receipts (or canceled checks)
  • Security deposit receipt (or canceled check)
  • List of damages when you moved in
  • Pictures or videos (be prepared to say who took them and when)
  • Witnesses who saw you pay the deposit, and/ or who know the condition of your apartment when you moved in and moved out

If you have not given a forwarding address, you are still entitled to the security deposit. However, because of the difficulty the landlord may have in locating you, the landlord does not have to return it within 30 days.

Any lease clause that says you have waived these rights is unenforceable and therefore void.

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