What to Do if the Landlord Does Not Return Your Security Deposit

April 21st, 2010 by

The landlord has a right to ask for and collect a security deposit when you move in, which is an additional deposit that will be used if you cause damage to the apartment (and will be returned if you don’t). This includes a security deposit for any pets you own. Some states allow the landlord to collect up to one and a half times one month’s rent. The idea behind collecting a security deposit is the landlord will have the funds needed up front to make repairs for any damages you cause to the apartment. Some states require landlords to hold the security deposit in escrow where it earns interest, and the interest collected must be accounted for and paid to tenants according to state laws.

Return of Security Deposit

When you move out, the landlord has a finite amount of time to inspect the apartment for damages and to get estimates on what it will take to make repairs. The landlord can make the repairs, but can charge for the supplies and reasonable service charges, when compared to what similar service professionals would charge. The landlord then has 30 days to give you a written statement on damages and repairs needed, but some states require this statement in as little as 14 days.

The total amount needed for repairs is deducted from the security deposit, and any amount that remains is returned to the tenant. That’s why it’s important to give a forwarding address to your landlord, to receive a written statement of damages, all or part of your security deposit or both. However, some landlords don’t return any portion of the security deposit or give an account for damages.

What to Do

Contact the landlord in writing, requesting the written statement and your security deposit. Make sure it’s delivered by Certified Mail, requesting their signature. This is proof that they did receive your letter, which you’ll need if you go to court. If you don’t receive a response, or if you’re not satisfied with what the landlord said, then you have an option to go to small claims court. You can sue for the security deposit, plus what it cost you in legal fees to bring the lawsuit. If you win, you can get as much as two times the security deposit owed to you.

Protect a Future Case

You have to be prepared before you walk into small claims court if you want your security deposit back. If the landlord has a defense, then you’ll have wasted your time. For example, make sure you move out on or before the last day of the lease. If you stay longer, the landlord can claim one month’s rent. They’ll deduct that from your security deposit, and claim that you intended by your actions to “hold over” one more month. Take pictures of the apartment before you move out, and taking video footage is even better. If you can, schedule a walk through with your landlord when you’ve moved out all your things, and get them to update the inspection report or form you filled out together when you moved in.

Your last recourse for getting your security deposit back should be small claims court. Try to negotiate with your landlord first to avoid the hassle of a legal action.

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12 Responses to “What to Do if the Landlord Does Not Return Your Security Deposit”

  1. molliemchugh Says:

    what is ware and tear damage in a rental that you’ve been in for 6 yrs and moving out in a few months?

  2. Friendly landlord Says:

    Hi Mollie,

    Laws regarding normal wear and tear vary depending on what sate you live in, and also on the management company policy.

    In General, “normal wear and tear” means deterioration that occurs without negligence, carelessness, accident, or abuse.

    The management company I work for charges back the cost of painting, apartment cleaning, carpet cleaning, and window cover cleaning for residency of less than 18 months. For residency more than 18 months, we do not charge for these items, but do charge for damage repairs that cost more than usual.

    Some examples: Our normal cost to paint an apartment is about $300. If it costs us more than that, the difference could come out of your deposit. Cleaning the carpet is $50, but stain removal can be anywhere from $25-$200. Carpet stains are not considered normal wear and tear and are always charged to the resident.

    A typical rule of thumb is to leave the apartment as you found it at move in.

    Here is the checklist I give to residents to help them get back as much of their deposit as possible:

    Kitchen
    -Clean inside, behind, under, and around all appliances
    -Clean oven inside and out, including knobs/buttons
    -Clean range hood and filter, drips pans and coils
    -Clean cabinets, inside and out
    -Clean breadboard, counters, and walls
    -Clean dishwasher inside and out
    -Clean sink, faucet, and under sink
    -Clean floor and cove base, sweep and mop

    Bathroom
    -Clean toilet inside and out
    -Clean shower, surround, and tub
    -Clean medicine cabinet and mirror
    -Clean sink and faucets
    -Remove all mildew, wash walls
    -Sweep and mop floors,
    -Clean cabinets and cove base

    General
    -Clean entrance door and threshold
    -Clean all windows, sills, and tracks
    -Clean closets, shelves, and switch plates
    -Sweep and mop floors, vacuum carpets
    -Clean marks off walls, sweep patio
    -Remove cobwebs & wash light fixtures.
    -Remove all tacks and nails from walls and fill holes
    -Remove all of your personal items
    -Return all keys to office

    Good Luck!

  3. $7.50 back from $450 Says:

    In essence, the security deposit (& return) are a judgment call made exclusively by the landlord. My previous landlord kept $442 of my $450 deposit although she told me to my face that since I lived there for 2 years the charges to clean would either not be charged to me or be minimal. Ha! Liar! EVERYBODY is a crook, so ALWAYS be ready to fight for your $. I’m in process of contacting an arbitrator.

  4. Xiomara Says:

    Hi,I was wondering what are my options if my Landlord does nt want to return my full security deposit after he has clearly told me he would give me the full amount because we cleaned the apartment and washed carpet and repainted with the same color it was originally. He did not give us a note stating the damages and its been three months. He is clearly ripping us off but we have been trying to negotiate kindly with him because court is such a hassle. What should I do now that I obviously have no choice but to go to court.

  5. Stephanie Says:

    Xiomara….I totally understand where you are coming from…I cleaned my rear off periodically before we moved out and for 4 days straight (8hrs)each time to get the place ready for the renter I had already found for him…he told me he would give us back our deposit…he would not sign a paper stating the place was in good condition for the next tenant and his excuse was that his lawyer told him not to sign such things…haha…what a lie…every landlord should want to sign due to the fact that they said it looked great…he at first wouldnt sign a vacate notice..it took 2 days to get it back and he only initialed it, which is still legal in court…he said he couldnt believe we were moving out when he had kept the rent real low…he kept the rent low for all his renters cause he knew most of us would move if he raised it…then he verbally attacked my fiance over the phone, hung up, then called back and apologized and told us he wouldnt screw us over..well in fact he is trying to screw us over…we got no letter stating what he found in damages cause there were none…the place was better when we moved out compared to what it was before we moved in…we did free durastone flooring in front of the front door, in the kitchen and bathroom…we left brand new ceiling fans behind, cleaned carpets, scrubbed walls and took pics knowing this jerk was gonna try and screw us…your only choice is to take him to court…if it takes longer than 6 mths to get your money back you could be due lots of money so dont let him get over on you..there are many slumlords out there and it sounds like we both got stuck with one…our landlord never did fixtures but thankfully my fiance is a handyman and knows how to take care of things like that…when we wanted to live in this 3 bdrm apt it was not liveable..we painted, put all new flooring down, new toilet, new tub/shower, stained the kitchen cabinets, etc and only asked for 1 mths free rent for the labor…he got off easy and I wont let him get over on me like that..I have taken 2 previous slumlords to court and won and I am gonna do it again…just make sure you get all your ducks in a row and all the paperwork you have for things you have done, pictures and be sure to pay any remaining water bills, etc…you will not lose…trust that…Good Luck

  6. Stephanie Says:

    For the state of Illinois its the landlord who has to paint..we just have to prepare the walls for painting

  7. Stephanie Says:

    oh and make sure you ask for interest/escrow on your damage deposit…court fees….and you can also get double your deposit…just look at your state laws…be prepared…that way you look like you know what you are doing…I have to say to that pics will prove it all

  8. Aline Says:

    Hi, I have the problem that my landlady wants to keep my deposit and I already started the court but now I have the problem that she does not want to sign the return of the keys as I guess she wants to lie on the court that she never did receive it, so I still kept the keys. what to do? how can I get rid of the keys? Is it possible to send it to her via sign mail or smthg like this? but even then she might not gonna accept it when she sees my name on the mail. Need urgent help. Thanks

  9. vivian Says:

    Hi,I have left my appartment on Dec,2012,before the last day of Dec,the appartment did the inspection and we had one broken glass of window,so he said he will make the deduct of the window and give back the rest my deposite but he didnt give the amount and any inspect paper to me.and later i try to contact the manager but he didnt answer the phone,i went there and called a new contact person there,he said to me there is a girl went to the appartment in the first week of Feb,2013,and she broken the mailbox and smoked pot in the laundry room,he insisted that is my friend and refuse to pay back my deposit,i moved out on DEC 2012,and there is somebody broken the stuff onFEB 2013,BUT he put that on me,so can i still have my deposit back?

  10. Amber N. Says:

    Hi, I need advice. We had a one year lease in a house, and after the year was up we asked out landlord to give us a new lease but he just let it go and did not. We stayed another year. We then decided to move out. We gave a month’s notice. We cleaned, mopped etc. In our lease, the landlord stated we could have our two dogs and cats. There are wood floors in the house, and after two years obviously there was normal wear and tear. When we moved in, we noticed whoever finished the floors did a bad job- only one coat in most places that quickly was wearing away (which we mentioned to the landlord and he didn’t seem to care). Also, when we moved in the oil tank was at 3/4. When we moved out, we left it at 3/4. Well, it has been 30 days since our move out and we received a letter in the mail from our landlord stating that we would only get back $75 of our $975 security deposit. He said that There was “excessive” damage to the wood floors, and the repairs was $705, and that the oil tank wasn’t filled, so that’s another $100 plus. I am so furious and don’t know what to do. I feel like it’s going to be “he says, she says”. What should we do?

  11. Jess Says:

    Today I received not only a notice that none of my security deposit would be returned but a bill for the excess after “standard apartment cleaning”, “standard carpet cleaning” and last months utility bills. I don’t dispute the utility as the previous months water, sewer and garbage were paid along with rent. However I do object them using the security deposit for standard cleaning and carpet cleaning. I lived in the apartment only 3 months and did not have a pet, did not smoke and did not even walk on the carpet with shoes on. There were no stains, no mold, no broken anything. The whole idea that I am being charged for standard cleaning and that the carpet had to be professionally cleaned is ridiculous. No where in the rental agreement (which I just reviewed) did it say you would be charged for professional cleaning. Unfortunately I did not take pictures (next time I will for sure) so I can’t prove that the apartment was in good shape when I left it. I realize that the cost of filing in small claims may be more than the deposit itself but I’m so angry about it I almost do not care.

  12. Cynthia Says:

    My landlord was my friend. He told me there was a Renter’s Association. I thought it was for the benefit of the renter, when in fact, it was a meeting where landlords gave each other tips and tricks to milk as much of the security deposit from their renter as they legally could.

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