Updated May 2017 Fact Sheet PDF
A security deposit is money held by the landlord to pay for any damages beyond the normal wear and tear that happens during the time that you live in the home. A security deposit is not an advanced payment of rent.
Damages can include actual damages to the home or property. The security deposit can also include having to clean the home, recovering rent that has not been paid, or paying late fees.
If your landlord at least six properties or has someone manage or collect rent on the property, then certain laws apply. Under these laws, a landlord cannot ask you for more than two months’ rent as a security deposit. For example, if your rent is $300 per month, the landlord cannot charge you more than $600 as a security deposit.
If your landlord owns five properties or fewer, the laws above do not apply. For this reason, it is very important to have a written lease. The written lease states how much the security deposit is, what you must do to get it back, and when you can expect to receive it.
Timelines and Damages
Your landlord does not have to give you back your deposit exactly when you move out. If your landlord owns six or more properties, the landlord must return your security deposit within 60 days from the date the lease ended. If the landlord does not return your security deposit, the landlord must give you a list of damages and the amount withheld from the security deposit. If the landlord does not return your security deposit or give you a list of damages and the amount of those damages, then you can get twice the amount of the deposit plus costs and attorney's fees.
If the landlord owns five or fewer properties, the above does not apply.
Your New Address
To get your security deposit back, make sure your landlord knows your new address. If the landlord sends your deposit to your last known address (which can be the place that you just moved from) and it comes back, the landlord only must make a reasonable attempt to find you. If your landlord cannot find you, the landlord can keep the entire security deposit after 180 days.
Small Claims Court
You can sue your landlord in small claims court for the return of your security deposit, but the landlord might file a counterclaim against you for any unpaid rent or damages to the home.
Before you move in, give the landlord pictures or a list of any damages in the home or on the property, and keep a copy of the pictures or list for your records so, when you move out, you are not charged for damages you did not cause.
Give the landlord your new address or an address where you can be contacted.
Take pictures of the home when you leave.
Leave the home clean and keep receipts for cleaning.
Have an independent witness look at the home so they can verify the home was clean when you left—if possible, the witness should be someone who saw the home when you moved in.
Have an independent witness with you when you talk to your landlord about a problem; it is better to put all communications with your landlord in writing and keep copies of any letters or e-mails you send.
Ask your landlord to put any promises they make in writing.
If you leave without giving proper notice, check to see if someone else moves in—you may still be able to get some of your security deposit back if your landlord rents the home to someone else.
“Normal Wear and Tear”
Normal wear and tear happens when you use the property in a reasonable manner. For example, the carpet is worn from walking on it.
Your landlord can evict you for damages that happened because of unreasonable use, even if it was an accident. Examples include stained carpets or walls that are burned. If you damage the apartment, your landlord can evict you, keep your security deposit, and sue you for the cost of repairs.
When the lease ends, always take your belongings with you. Do not leave anything, even for a day. If you leave your property behind after your lease ends or you move out, the landlord may try to sell it or throw it away. If your landlord puts your property in a storage unit, you will have to pay storage fees to get your belongings back.