Knowing a little bit of the law can go a long way in ensuring a quick and speedy return of your security deposit. The key to getting your security deposit back fast is understanding why your landlord may or may not withhold funds from your deposit in the first place.

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What May Be Deducted

Your landlord may deduct from your security deposit for:

  • Unpaid rent
  • Repairs for damage other than normal wear and tear.
  • Under some state laws, the security deposit may also be used for cleaning a rental unit after move-out, but only to make the unit as clean as it was when you first moved in.
  • In some states, a security deposit may also be used to replace or restore personal property, such as keys.

What May Not Be Deducted

Your landlord may not withhold money from your security deposit for:

  • The cost of repairing defects that existed prior to your move-in.
  • Conditions in your rental unit caused by normal wear and tear. See below for a more detailed discussion on normal wear and tear.
  • Cleaning your rental unit if your unit was as clean when you moved out as when you moved in.

Itemized Statements

In general, most states, including New York and California, require that when you move out, your landlord must refund your security deposit in full, or, deliver to you an itemized statement listing the amounts of any deductions from your security deposit, the reasons for those deductions, along with any funds not deducted.

The time in which your landlord must return your security deposit and/or an itemized statement to you varies by state. For example, in California, it is within 21 days of your move-out. But in New York, it is within a “reasonable” time that is usually between 30 to 60 days.   

Normal Wear and Tear vs. Damage

Your landlord may charge for damage caused to your rental unit but he cannot deduct from your security deposit for normal wear and tear. The law does not define normal wear and tear, but it consists of the deterioration of the unit that occurs during normal conditions.
An easy way to understand normal wear and tear is to think of it as harm that occurs even when you clean and maintain your rental unit. Normal wear and tear typically includes frayed carpets, worn tile, faded paint and more.

Damage, on the other hand, is a result of an accident or an unreasonable use of your rental unit.  This includes broken windows, large holes in the walls, stains and excessive build up of dirt or filth.

Penalties for Unjust Deductions

What happens if your landlord deducts from your security deposit for damage you didn’t cause or keeps your deposit beyond the time allowed after your move-out? The good news is that many states will penalize your landlord for improperly holding onto your deposit.

If you are forced to go to small claims court, and the court finds your landlord improperly withheld your deposit, the landlord will be required to not only return your full deposit but will face a penalty. Penalty amounts vary by state, but can be as much as three times the security deposit amount. Check your state and local laws to verify if your landlord is at risk for such a penalty.

Securing a quick and easy return of your security deposit is possible when you know the law behind what your landlord may or may not deduct from your deposit.

Get started Start Your Renter’s Inspection Worksheet Answer some questions. We’ll take care of the rest.

Get started Start Your Renter’s Inspection Worksheet Answer some questions. We’ll take care of the rest.