LandLordStation.com provides a variety of information that is helpful to renters, including how to get your security deposit back. Not only is it important for you to be a good tenant in order to keep your record of tenancy in respectable standing, but being a good tenant will also help you get your security deposit back.
It is important to understand the renters rights with security deposits. The security deposit remains your property while the landlord holds a security interest in it. A security deposit is different than a pet deposit. Pet deposits are covered in another discussion on LandLordStation.com.
A rental security deposit is, by law, an amount of money paid by you, the tenant, and held by the landlord. This amount of money is used to cover any damages to the property you are renting which are over and above normal wear and tear. The legal definition of “normal wear and tear” can vary from state to state, but it is almost always a common sense definition. Slight wear on a carpet, for example, is considered normal wear and tear. Rips or holes in a carpet are cause for the forfeiture of the security deposit in the amount necessary to repair the damage. Security deposits can also be used by the landlord to cover any unpaid rent if necessary. If you break your lease and abandon a property while still owing rent, the security deposit, in part or in full, can be forfeited to cover the unpaid amount.
Most states have laws requiring that your landlord maintain an escrow account for the purpose of holding security deposits. Your landlord cannot use your security deposit for any purpose other than what is set by law. Security deposits cannot be co-mingled with your landlord’s general fund or put in a personal account.
Some states allow a landlord to create an interest bearing escrow account to hold the security deposit. The states that allow interest bearing accounts also have laws about who may collect the interest on the account, and how often the interest may be distributed. States also have laws requiring a landlord to pay any fees incurred by the account and to bear the cost of the account. Many states require that the interest accrue in the account until the lease terminates. Some states allow you to split the interest with your landlord. You should make sure that this information is in your Lease Agreement.
In the event that you break a lease, your landlord must promptly take steps to re-rent the property and must credit you with any new rent toward your obligation for the rest of the lease. For example, if you break a lease and have a two-month deposit and your landlord rents the property within one month, the landlord can only keep one month’s worth of the deposit. To keep the entire deposit, in this example, is against the law and your landlord can be penalized and fined. In some states, after you are 10 days late on paying their rent, that amount may be retained by your landlord unless there is a late charge specified in your Lease Agreement. In that event, the security deposit cannot be retained.
When your landlord has determined that any part of the deposit should be forfeited, a detailed letter should be sent to you with explanations of what caused the forfeiture. We recommend that you pay your rent on time and to keep a record of when you paid. If you pay by check, keep your cancelled checks. Another important point on how to get security deposit back is that you must also maintain the residence. You must keep it clean and avoid damaging the property. Any damage that you do, over and above normal wear and tear, will give your landlord the right to keep your deposit.
If any part of the security deposit is kept by your landlord, your landlord should itemize the use of the deposit and return any balance. Each state has a law that specifies the amount of time a landlord has to return the either the deposit, or if the deposit is kept, the itemized accounting report. It is a good idea to find out what your state allows in regards to the amount of time a landlord has to return a tenant's deposit. If your landlord exceeds that time, you can take your landlord to court. If a court finds that a delay in returning your deposit is deliberate, the landlord can be ordered to pay two or three times the amount of the deposit to you. It is much easier to maintain the property, and pay your rent on time, than it is to take your landlord to court to try to get your deposit back.
LandLordStation.com advises that you make sure that the lease specifies the amount of the security deposit, where it will be held and what it is meant to cover. In addition, make sure your landlord gives you a security deposit receipt that includes this information. Many landlords have a “move-in check list” that is given to the tenant when he or she moves in. The tenant has a short amount of time to check whether items on the premises are in good, working condition. The tenant must then sign the list and return it to the landlord. This list can be used when the tenant moves out of the property to verify that things were in good shape when the tenant moved in. If your landlord does not give you this list, make one of your own. Note anything that is broken or is not clean. If possible, take photos. Go over the list with your landlord and have him sign the list and date it. If you have problems getting security deposit back, you will have evidence to take to court. If you pay your rent on time and take care of the property, it is likely that there will be no problem. For fast accurate rent payments, ask your landlord if you can pay your rent online.
Visit LandLordStation.com where you will find our Tenant Resource Center and a variety of articles about your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. We offer a community where you can ask experts in the field of real estate any additional questions you might have about how to get your security deposit back.
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