According to Rent.com, 26% of renters won’t get their security deposits back when they move. Of that percentage, 36% of those renters won’t receive an explanation why. It’s not unusual for renters to not see their full damage deposits again. However, if tenants know their security deposit rights, they keep as much of their security deposit as possible.
What Is A Security Deposit?
A security deposit or damage deposit is a protective measure against any damages to a property. Depending on your state, your landlord, and where you live, the amount of your damage deposit may change. Think of this deposit as a promise to your landlord that you will follow your leasing agreement.
The security deposit is based off of your rent, along with several other factors to do with your leasing agreement. Normally, the security deposit can be anywhere from half a month’s rent to two month’s rent. There may also be additional charges if the property is furnished or if you own pets.
As your rent increases due to inflation, your landlord may ask that you add additional charges to your security deposit. Be sure to make note of any and all deposits made into your account.
Where Does The Security Deposit Go?
Normally, security deposits are held in escrow or in a separate account. Normally, a security is returned within 30 days of a tenant vacating the property. For this reason, the security deposit should be held in a separate account and remain untouched while the tenant resides on the property unless discussed otherwise.
A tenant’s security deposit can be greatly misused when it isn’t held in another account. A landlord may attempt to use the security deposit for their own purposes rather than put the money on hold. Many landlords and property managers will attempt to keep as much of the security deposit because it’s already been spent.
Not holding the security deposit in another account is illegal in many states. You should be honest with your landlord about where the money is stored. If the deposit is in a high-interest account, the accumulated interest also belongs to the tenant. Always ask your landlord to provide a receipt of the security deposit’s account including its annual interest rate.
What’s In The Security Deposit Agreement?
Upon your initial walkthrough with your landlord, you will sign a lease agreement along with a security deposit agreement. This agreement will state what condition the property is in when you move in, and what the expectations upon leaving the property are. This can include:
- How much the damage or security deposit is
- What conditions your property should be in upon vacating
- Itemized list of property items and their condition (furniture, curtains, carpets etc.)
- The cost to repair or replace property items
- What conditions the security will not be returned to the renter
- When the security deposit will be returned to the renter
How much your security deposit is depends on what state you’re in, the type of rental, and your credit score. Be sure to understand all your state’s laws and regulations on security deposit limits. Some states will have limitations on what can be charged for security deposits. Tenants can pay up to two month’s rent for their security deposit. The security deposit can be held by a landlord up to 60 days after a tenant moves in some states.
Tenants must be responsible for damages within their control. Therefore accidental or intentional damages such as burns, holes, or large and permanent stains can be taken out of your security deposit if you cannot repair it. Your landlord, however, cannot charge you for regular wear and tear to the property.
How To Keep Your Security Deposit When You Move Out
Before you even begin to move your stuff into your new home, understand all your rights as a tenant. You should understand the laws of your state, and know the grounds of your own leasing or rental agreement. Always read your leasing and security deposit agreement carefully, making note of key points such as:
- What your responsibilities as a tenant are
- How much you can be charged for what
- When the deposit will be returned to you
- Where the deposit will be held and how much interest it accumulates
To ensure that you receive as much of your security deposit back as possible, take pictures and videos of everything in the property when you move in. Be sure to make note of even the tiniest stains and scratches you come across while moving in. This will assure that your landlord will not attempt to charge you for damage you did not cause.
In addition to taking pictures, remember to keep receipts and note any repairs you make yourself. For example, let’s say you spend your own money to replace the leaky nozzle in the sink. That money should be reimbursed to you either by deducting rent, through a check, or through your security deposit.
Commonly, landlords return security deposits within 30 days upon tenants vacating the property. This can also change depending on what state you’re in. If the security deposit is not returned or only part of it is reimbursed, contact your landlord to see why. Many states will also require landlords to provide an itemized list of security deposit deductions. Even if your state does not have this law, you can still ask your landlord for a list of security deposit deductions.
What Your Landlord Can’t Keep Your Security Deposit For
Your landlord cannot keep your security deposit for regular wear and tear to the property, or for damages you have not caused. For example, if the kitchen had a broken tile when you moved in, your landlord cannot charge you for that damage. This also includes:
- Naturally faded paint or wallpaper
- Leaky or minor damages to plumbing fixtures
- Dirty blinds and curtains
- Furniture marks in carpet
- Warped doors, windows, and walls from normal age, temperature, or moisture
- Dents in walls from door handles
- Broken appliances from age or regular wear
- Broken or dead batteries and lightbulbs
- Small holes from wall decor
You should do your best to always inform your landlord of broken appliances and other damages that occur. Your landlord is responsible for making the space livable and safe for anyone renting the property. This means that they do need to do regular maintenance and upkeep if the property requires it. While cleaning the property, you should also do your best to repair small holes, dents, and scratches with putty or paint.
What Your Landlord Can Keep Your Security Deposit For
Your landlord can keep your security deposit if you or your roommates have failed to pay rent, broken the leasing agreement, or have not sufficiently cleaned the property. In addition to these holds, your security deposit can be held for excessive damages to the property. This does not include normal wear and tear that can be easily repaired. Think of excessive damages as repairs you will not be able to easily make yourself. This includes:
- Excessive or large holes in walls
- Broken tiles and fixtures
- Broken appliances due to misuse and negligence
- Tears, holes, and burn marks in carpets or curtains
- Excessive animal stains
- Broken windows and screens
- Broken and missing fixtures or furniture
- Pest extermination
- Excessive mildew and mold in bathroom
- Broken doors and locks
- Inadequate cleaning and property left behind
Most of these items will require expert repairs or can cost your landlord hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Even sub-par cleaning conditions can cost your landlord $100 to $200 a room to have it professionally cleaned.
What If My Security Deposit Is Not Fully Returned?
If it’s been a month and you still haven’t seen your security deposit, or you’ve only received part of your deposit back, contact your landlord. Be calm while interacting with them, and take note of what they say during the interaction. They may have multiple properties and have forgotten to send your security deposit. Electronic transfers can often be misplaced or compromised as well. Check your junk mail if it was sent electronically.
If your landlord claims there is damage to the property, ask for pictures and an itemized list of the costs. You can contest damages that you’ve already repaired or ones that were there when you moved in. This is why you should photograph as much as you can when you move into your new space.
In many states and jurisdictions, a landlord must provide an itemized list of damages or a written explanation as to why they’re keeping your security deposit. There are, of course, other limitations to this depending on where you live. You can find out more about your state’s tenancy rights by going to your state’s website or asking a lawyer in your area.
When Should Tenants Sue Their Landlords?
It’s not uncommon for a landlord to wrongfully withhold a tenant’s security deposit. In many cases, this can leave tenants out thousands of dollars that’s rightfully theirs. This is when having a lawyer may come in handy. If your landlord is violating your rights as a tenant, you can sue your landlord for a Wrongful Withholding of Security Deposit or a Wrongful Retention of Security Deposit.
There are a number of reasons why a tenant might sue their landlord. Although it could seem risky to sue your landlord and spend money on a lawyer, you have rights as a tenant and deserve your full security deposit back if you were a responsible tenant. If your landlord is wrongfully withholding your deposit, it’s likely that they could repeat their same actions again with the next tenants.