Security Deposits: Protecting Landlord and Tenant

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Security Deposits: Protecting Landlord and Tenant

Lisa Bernstein · Jul 22, 2009

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.

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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.

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