Security Deposits: Protecting Landlord and Tenant

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A security deposit is a sum of money that your landlord requires you to pay before you move into your apartment. Your landlord will hold onto the security deposit until you move out. The purpose of the security deposit is to protect your landlord in case you damage the apartment during the time you are living there. It also covers your landlord for lost rent or breach of lease.

Your landlord has the right to charge you an additional amount of money if the security deposit doesn’t cover the cost of the damage you cause to the apartment. Your lease should indicate where your landlord will hold your security deposit and under what conditions it will be returned to you when moving out.

How Much Can a Landlord Ask for a Security Deposit?

Roughly, half of the states limit the amount landlords can charge for a security deposit to no more than one or two months of rent. Other states do not specify how much a landlord can charge. Some states require landlords to hold your security deposit in a separate account and pay interest on it. Check your state’s Landlord/Tenant laws to ensure that your landlord is in compliance with all legal requirements.

Protecting Your Security Deposit

Your landlord can use your deposit to cover unpaid rent and perform needed repairs or cleaning resulting from more than normal use. But it should not be used for remedying ordinary wear and tear during your occupancy. Ordinary wear and tear means damage caused by the normal, proper use of the property. Damages beyond ordinary wear and tear are things like cigarette burns on carpets or a broken mirror in the bathroom. General cleaning, carpet cleaning, or repainting can’t be paid for with your security deposit, unless they were necessary due to your unreasonable use of the apartment. You and your landlord may not agree on what constitutes normal wear and tear.

You can protect your security deposit by recording the condition of the premises when you move in. It’s best if you and your landlord fill out a checklist together to prevent disagreements. Bringing along a roommate or friend, as a witness to the condition of the apartment at move-in time, will also help. Any problems you notice should be described as specifically as possible. Use detailed examples such as “stain on the carpet near the closet door.” This will show that you were not responsible for that damage. You and your landlord should sign the checklist after completing it. Each of you should keep a copy.

When moving out, make another inspection, noting the condition of everything at move-out time. By comparing the two lists, you can determine what damage was caused during your tenancy.

Getting Your Security Deposit Back

If your landlord deducts any money for damages or rent, she must give you a complete list of the damages she claims you caused to the property, including the cost of repairs. Most states hold landlords to strict guidelines for returning security deposits. Know your state’s laws; if your landlord violates them, she may face stiff penalties.


Lisa Bernstein: As a long-time apartment dweller and seasoned condominium trustee, I have dealt with numerous landlord-tenant, property management, and day-to-day apartment complex issues. My extensive, direct experience has led to invaluable insights into apartment life from both the tenant and management perspectives.

5 Responses to “Security Deposits: Protecting Landlord and Tenant”

  1. November 22, 2016 at 10:13 am, Leslie Schmitt said:

    Can a realtor keep your deposit if you never moved in. Because you were told you couldn't have the breed of dog in their place.


  2. December 01, 2016 at 9:52 am, compagnie de nettoyage said:

    whoah this weblog is fantastic i like studying
    your posts. Keep up the good work! You already know, lots of persons are searching around for this information,
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  3. December 09, 2016 at 12:45 pm, antoinette miles said:

    i had a question i. had moved from lancaster and living in an apartment before moving in i had paid first month rent and at the end i was suppose get my security deposit at the end but never got it and it has been five weeks since i have move who do i speak to adout it


  4. February 08, 2017 at 7:28 pm, sheryl said:

    Moved in two weeks into the month now landlord wants those two weeks that I didn't even live there


  5. February 11, 2017 at 1:37 pm, Sally Stohl said:

    I'm temporarily renting the a rm from a,couple
    who want let me cook, follow me everywhere to close frig. door, turn off light, limit shower usage, have to walk in tne dark @ night, more importantly, the roaches German and cockroaches ants are throughout the kitchen and in my rm. I'm battering them every day. They will not have a professional come in. Use "Raid"
    only which has no effect. I have to eat out majority of time cuz bugs and her watching me if i heat some soup or pizza, " cant you use the microwave?"The only time I have privacy is when they leave the house or I am in my 10X10 room.


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