Many landlords and property management companies typically require tenants to provide a security deposit, often equivalent to one month’s rent, prior to moving in. This security deposit serves as a form of assurance for landlords in case the tenant causes damage to the rental unit or leaves without paying rent. Additionally, it can be used to cover end of tenancy cleaning expenses if the rental unit is excessively dirty.
It is important to note that landlords must adhere to state laws when deducting from the security deposit, as these laws can vary between states. Tenants who have specific questions should consult their state’s security deposit regulations. This article delves into the deductions that landlords can make from a tenant’s security deposit.
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Is it Permissible to Use a Tenant’s Security Deposit for Cleaning Purposes?
Landlords may use a tenant’s security deposit to cover cleaning expenses if the cleaning fees exceed what is considered normal wear and tear. In certain situations, landlords may even resort to legal action to seek compensation for additional cleaning costs if the tenant has left the property in an uninhabitable condition.
Before taking any such steps, it is essential to consult with your property manager and thoroughly review the applicable local and state landlord-tenant laws. This will help clarify what deductions can and cannot be made from the security deposit.
One common misconception, particularly among first-time landlords, is regarding the security deposit as an extra source of income. Generally, returning the security deposit to the tenant is a prudent business practice for property owners in the rental business. This approach minimises disputes with tenants and reduces the risk of landlords being brought to small claims court by dissatisfied tenants.
Residential lease agreements typically stipulate that tenants are required to return the property in the same clean condition as when they initially moved in. However, landlords who do not maintain meticulous records, including a copy of the move-in inspection, photographs, and detailed notes from regular property inspections, may find themselves at a disadvantage in court and could be liable for double or even triple damages to the tenant for mishandling the security deposit.
Normal Wear and Tear
It is not permissible for landlords to utilise the security deposit to cover the expenses associated with normal wear and tear in a rental property. Normal wear and tear refers to the expected wear and tear that naturally occurs over time.
Here are some examples of normal wear and tear:
- Faded paint or wallpaper due to exposure to sunlight.
- Plumbing issues resulting from regular use.
- Accumulated dust on blinds and curtains.
- Rug wear caused by everyday use.
- Minor dents in walls from door handles.
- Faded curtains.
- Replacing broken light bulbs.
- Installing replacement batteries for smoke detectors.
- Non-excessive nail holes in walls.
- Damaged tiles or fixtures in bathrooms.
Non-Normal Wear and Tear
Landlords are permitted to deduct from the security deposit for damages that go beyond normal wear and tear. They can also deduct cleaning costs when necessary.
Here are examples of damages that fall outside of normal wear and tear:
- Removing paint that was applied by the tenant.
- Tears, holes, or burn marks on carpets or curtains.
- Broken windows and window screens.
- Damaged doors and locks.
- Severe filth or grime in or on the stove.
- Water damage.
Other Allowable Deductions
In most states, landlords can deduct any unpaid rent and authorised late fees from the security deposit. One of the purposes of the security deposit is to safeguard the landlord from financial loss in case the tenant fails to pay rent.
Tips for Ensuring the Full Return of Your Security Deposit
First, carefully review your lease or rental agreement for information regarding your security deposit. Some leases specify a timeline for returning the deposit. If your lease does not address this issue, consult your security deposit laws, which may limit the amount of the security deposit and provide guidelines for its return or the provision of an itemised deduction list by your former landlord or property manager.
While you have the option to file a claim in small claims court to recover your deposit, you can also send a certified demand letter to your former landlord, with a return receipt requested, which can serve as evidence in court if necessary. If your former landlord still does not refund your deposit, consider pursuing the matter in small claims court.
How Can I Ensure the Full Return of My Security Deposit?
Securing the return of your security deposit at the end of your lease should be a priority. Since landlords are not allowed to charge for regular wear and tear, focus on maintaining the apartment in good condition.
Conduct a thorough move-in inspection and document any existing damage. Some property owners may permit you to conduct the inspection independently, while others may accompany you. Provide your landlord with a copy of the inspection report and any accompanying documentation. This inspection serves as a baseline and evidence if you need to take legal action to recover your security deposit.
During Your Tenancy
While residing in the rental unit, you can take steps to increase the likelihood of receiving your full security deposit upon departure.
Examples of these measures include:
- Professional cleaning when needed.
- Repainting if necessary.
- Addressing minor repairs, such as replacing light bulbs.
- Promptly reporting any damage to the landlord.
Adhere to all move-out procedures outlined in your lease agreement. Many landlords require written notice of your intention to vacate the rental unit before the last month of your lease. This allows them to prepare for a new tenant.
Send a lease termination letter to your landlord via certified mail, including a return receipt, which should contain the following information:
- Your name.
- Contact phone number.
- Forwarding address.
- Proposed move-out date.
- Request for a final walk-through or move-out inspection.
- Request for the return of the security deposit.
This letter ensures your landlord has your forwarding address and formally documents your request for a walk-through and the return of your security deposit. The walk-through provides an opportunity for your landlord to identify any necessary repairs, and addressing these repairs can help preserve your security deposit.