All About Security Deposits

about security deposits

A security deposit is money the tenant gives the landlord at the beginning of the lease term to reduce the landlord’s risk that the tenant will not cover some of the tenant’s obligations under the lease agreement. Most residential landlords will require tenants to put down a security deposit when the lease agreement is signed.
Each state has its own laws governing residential real estate agreements and security deposits, but in general, a security deposit may be taken by the landlord to protect against the tenant’s failure to pay rent, or to cover the cost of repairs if the tenant damages the property.

In addition to the security deposit, a landlord may also collect the last month’s rent at the time the lease agreement is signed. This sum is collected specifically to cover the rent for the last month of the lease agreement in advance and is in addition to the security deposit. 

Collecting the Security Deposit

Typically, a landlord will collect an amount equal to one month’s rent each for the last month’s rent and the security deposit. If the rent is increased during the tenancy, the landlord may request that the tenant pay an additional sum for both the last month’s rent and the security deposit so that each of those sums equal the current monthly rent payment.

If the landlord seeks a security deposit, the landlord and tenant should each inspect the property so that any existing damage to the property can be documented and agreed-upon. It is a good idea to take photographs of any existing damage at the beginning of the tenancy to show that the damage was not caused during the tenant’s occupation of the property. The landlord should provide the tenant with a receipt for both the security deposit and the last month’s rent to document what was paid.

Returning the Security Deposit

The security deposit must be returned to the tenant within a specific period of time after the termination of the tenancy. The time within which the landlord must return the security deposit to the tenant is established by law, but it is typically 30 days. In some states, the landlord is required to pay the tenant interest on both the security deposit and the last month’s rent at the end of the tenancy.

If the landlord is going to keep all or part of the security deposit, the landlord is required to notify the tenant of the reason for failing to refund all of the tenant’s security deposit. The landlord may not hold any portion of the tenant’s security deposit to cover normal wear and tear to the property, or to improve the property beyond the condition it was in when the tenant first took occupancy.

If the landlord finds damage to the property at the end of the lease agreement and intends to keep some or all of the security deposit to cover the damages, in many the landlord is required to provide the tenant with a detailed list of the damages and the repairs to be made, along with documentation of the cost of those repairs, such as invoices, receipts, etc. Examples of repairs the landlord would be permitted to retain some or all of the security deposit to cover include:

- Broken fixtures or appliances (other than by normal use)
- Tears or holes in carpets or other furnishings
- Broken tiles or other flooring
- Holes in walls
- Broken doors, windows or screens
- Re-painting walls due to tenant having painted without permission from the landlord

In many jurisdictions, if a landlord does not return all of your security deposit within the specified time, or returns only part of the security deposit without the written documentation of damages and repairs, the tenant can sue the landlord for return of the security deposit.

To increase the chances that your full security deposit will be returned to you, in some cases you can ask the landlord to do an inspection of your property before you move out to tell you what repairs would need to be made in order for the landlord to return the full amount. That provides you with an opportunity to make repairs yourself, especially if you can save money by doing so.

If you have questions about your security deposit, use our site to quickly post your legal issue and find a qualified attorney near you who can help.

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Posted - 02/25/2020