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.