A security deposit is an amount of money you give to your landlord at the beginning of a lease or rental agreement. Your security deposit is refundable if the rental unit is clean, empty, and undamaged when you move out at the end of the lease or upon giving adequate notice.
Typically, you must pay the security deposit before or upon signing the lease or rental agreement. The landlord should provide acknowledgement of receiving this deposit in the agreement or in a separate receipt.
In some states and cities, the landlord is required to tell you in which bank or which bank account the security deposit is held. A few states, such as Connecticut, require that the landlord pay you interest on your security deposit until you move out.
Generally, the landlord may not use your security deposit for any purpose while you are legally inhabiting the unit. The security deposit is meant to be held to pay for damages, or to cover costs if you break the lease or don’t pay rent. Otherwise, it’s your money and should be refunded.
While most states do not have limits on how large a security deposit can be, some states limit the security deposit to the equivalent of 1-2 months of rent (3 months in Nevada). State law may also regulate the amount of additional deposits for pet damages.
If your rent goes up, usually your landlord can also increase the security deposit to match.
Some states permit the landlord to keep your security deposit if you do not promptly provide a forwarding address. To keep the lines of communication open and protect your deposit, it’s best to send that information to the landlord no later than your move-out day.
Take photos of the entire unit when you’re moving out. This is for your protection in case the landlord claims damages and doesn’t return your security deposit.
Normally, the landlord must return your security deposit within the period of time specified in state and local law, which varies from 7 to 60 days.
If the landlord does not return the security deposit, or does not return the full amount, they must send you a description of the reasons. Unpaid back rent is a valid reason to retain the security deposit. Another valid reason is specific damage beyond "normal wear and tear."
Normal wear and tear means damage that would be expected to occur from regular responsible use of the rental premises. It includes minor damage or stains on floors, carpets, and walls, and repairs to appliances and other fixtures that are either regularly scheduled by the landlord or would be expected in the course of normal use of the rental unit.
Landlords may not retain the security deposit to pay for repainting or carpet replacement that would occur regardless of the condition in which you left the unit.
You have the right to challenge the landlord if they unjustly keep your security deposit. Contact a local tenants’ rights organization or a lawyer who handles tenant issues. They can help you write a letter to the landlord explaining the situation and outlining your rights and the landlord’s responsibilities.
If you don’t get your deposit back, you can sue the landlord in small claims court. You’ll need documentation of the unit’s condition when you moved out (which is why taking photos can be a good idea), proof that you were current on rent, and/or proof that you supplied the landlord with your forwarding address.