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Can landlord deduct five months of utility bills at once?

Ocean City, NJ |

We moved out of our rental unit last month; After repeated requests for water bills on a timely basis, our landlord stuck us with five months of water bills at once in May 2012 and now is deducting five months of water bills from our security deposit. He insisted on keeping the bill in his name, and he receives the bill every month. Our lease is relatively silent on the issue, except that it specifies that the tenant is responsible for all utilities (despite his insistence on keeping the water bill in his name). Can we dispute his deduction of five months of water bills at once? We have numerous documentation of our requests for the water bills since October 2012.

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Attorney answers 3


Dear can we dispute?

I am an attorney licensed in New York. I do not practice law in New Jersey.

You may dispute. You should review your lease regarding a right if any of by the landlord to dip into the security deposit for any purpose other than for damage to the rental unit beyond ordinary wear and tear.

Read more about a tenant's right to a security deposit return here:

and at:

Good luck.

The answer provided to you is in the nature of general information. The general proposition being that you should try to avoid a bad outcome if you can.


Generally, in residential situations, tenant security deposits should be held by landlords in escrow accounts; meaning the tenant retains legal possession even though the landlord has actual possession of the funds. The money should only become the possession of the landlord if needed to pay for damages to the premises caused by the tenant. A thorough review of your lease would be in order, as well.

Something to consider: in your question you acknowledge your responsibility to pay the water utility bill. Even assuming your landlord deducted only the amount owed for the water bill, you may nonetheless be entitled to damages because your landlord used your property (the money in escrow) to pay the bills.

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As you had already moved out, I trust that the landlord provided an accounting of the water bills, and complied with the provisions of the security deposit act before deducting the bill. The bill itself would seem to be a legitimate expense if it had remained unpaid throughout your tenancy, but I don't know why he refused to provide you with copies of the bills. You may want to discuss this with a lawyer to see if the landlord complied with the provisions concerning return of security deposits.

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