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What can my landlord deduct from my security deposit?

When you have questions about your rights as a tenant, the first place to check is your Lease Agreement. Leases often specifically spell out what may or may not be deducted from your security deposit. Your landlord, typically, 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 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 fixtures and other items related to the property, such as keys or garage door openers.

What can my landlord not deduct from my security deposit?

Often, tenants are upset when landlords deduct anything from their security deposit. Your landlord, generally, 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. 
  • Cleaning your rental unit if your unit was as clean when you moved out as when you moved in.

Does my landlord have to provide an itemized statement?

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. The statement is required to list 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 which can range between 30 to 60 days. In cities or counties with strong protections for renters, the time may be even shorter.

What is considered normal wear and tear?

Your landlord may charge for damage caused to your rental unit, but 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 under 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 worn carpets, tile, or other flooring, 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 or appliances, holes in the walls, stains and scratches on the flooring or walls.

What can I do about unfair deductions or not getting my deposit refunded?

If your landlord deducts from your security deposit for damage you did not cause or keeps your deposit beyond the time allowed after your move-out, you have legal options. You may be able resolve the issue by sending a Complaint to Landlord letter. Since many states penalize and fine landlords for improperly holding onto your deposit or making unwarranted deductions, a simple complaint letter may be enough to get your landlord to refund 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 may face a penalty. Penalty amounts vary by state, but can be as much as three times the security deposit amount.

Securing a quick and easy return of your security deposit is possible when you know the law, and know what your landlord may or may not deduct from your deposit. If you have more questions about your security deposit, or rights as a tenant, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.


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