A landlord cannot collect a security deposit equal to more than one and one-half month’s rent. For example, if the monthly rent is $1,000.00, then the maximum security deposit a landlord may legally collect is $1,500.00. Sounds simple, but it’s not.
A security deposit does not include nonrefundable cleaning or redecorating fees, but DOES include refundable cleaning, redecorating and/or any other type of refundable deposit (i.e., refundable pet deposit, refundable key deposit, etc.). Incidently, security deposits are ALWAYS refundable deposits; there is no such thing as a “nonrefundable security deposit.”
Consequently, a landlord MAY: in the same example above, the landlord may collect a $1,500 security deposit, a $250 nonrefundable cleaning fee, a $250 nonrefundable redecoration fee, and a $25 nonrefundable application fee. But that same landlord COULD NOT collect a $1,500 security deposit and a $1 key deposit, because then the amount of deposits the landlord would be holding exceeds one and one-half month’s rent.
Hang on, we’re not done. Same example, but the landlord collects a $1,000 security deposit and a $500 refundable cleaning deposit. So far, the landlord is okay. But the tenant leaves at the end of the lease term and owes $2,000 in past due rent. There is no property damage and the property is left cleaner than when the tenant moved in. The landlord will want to apply all $1,500 to the past due rent, but he can’t. Under the Act, “‘security’ means money or property given to assure payment or performance under a rental agreement.” (See A.R.S. § 33-1310(14)). The tenant left the property clean – the tenant is legally entitled to return of the $500 cleaning deposit. If the landlord holds onto that deposit, then the landlord has “wrongfully withheld” part of the tenant’s refundable deposits and the tenant can sue the landlord for the $500 deposit, plus statutory damages equal to twice the amount wrongfully withheld (i.e., $1,000), plus attorney’s fees and court costs. A really bad result for the landlord.
The solution is simple. The landlord should collect only one deposit – a security deposit. I always recommend that my clients collect only a security deposit (not to exceed one and one-half month’s rent) because the landlord may apply the security deposit to any amounts owed by the tenant: rent, property damage, cleaning, whatever. Under the Act, and as stated above, the landlord can also collect fees and charges (i.e., nonrefundable) for cleaning, redecorating, etc. The only restrictions on fees and charges are: (1) they must be “reasonable” (whatever that means) and (2) the purpose of the nonrefundable fee/charge must be stated in writing (i.e., in the rental agreement or some other written document).