A security deposit is a payment held by a landlord to make sure that the tenant pays rent on time and keeps the apartment or house in good condition. The tenant pays the landlord the money, and the landlord keeps it until after the tenant moves out.
The lease should explain the purpose of the security or damage deposit, and say what it can be used for. If there is no lease, or the lease does not explain what a deposit can be used for, the landlord can use the deposit for the following things:
- Unpaid rent
- Cleaning the apartment
- Repairing damages
Damages or other expenses that were caused by normal wear and tear cannot be taken out of the deposit.
How much can a security deposit be?
Generally, there are no limits on how much a landlord can charge as a security deposit. Landlords usually charge one or two months' rent. But, there are some exceptions:
- Subsidized or public housing: Landlords may only charge a deposit similar to deposits being charged by private landlords in the area.
- Mobile home parks: Landlords cannot charge more than one month's rent in a mobile home park in which the landlord rents 5 or more trailers.
Is it OK for a tenant to not pay their last month's rent since the landlord has a security deposit?
No. A security deposit does not take the place of rent, even though landlords will keep the security deposit if a tenant leaves the apartment owing rent. If the tenant does not pay the last month's rent, the landlord can sue for eviction. Then, the tenant may have to move out before the end of the month.
If the landlord and tenant agree to use the security deposit to cover rent, this agreement should be in writing.
A written statement of damages
Sometimes a landlord must provide a written statement of damages before taking money out of a security deposit.
- Landlords of buildings with 4 or fewer apartments do not have to give tenants written statements of damages unless they are required to in the lease. If the lease requires the landlord to give the tenant a written statement, the landlord must describe in writing any damages to the property that they want to pay for out of the security deposit. The lease should state when the landlord must give the tenant this statement and what information needs to be included on it.
- Landlords of building with 5 or more apartments must give tenants a written statement describing any damage to the property if they want to deduct repair costs from the security deposit. The landlord must deliver the written statement to the tenant within 30 days after they move out. The landlord must list the actual or estimated cost of repair and give receipts for repairs unless the price was listed in the lease. The landlord does not have to send the tenant a statement if they kept the security deposit because the tenant owed rent.
Current mailing address or email
The tenant must give the landlord a current mailing address or email so that the landlord can send them the written statement. If not, the landlord is not responsible for not providing the receipts or returning the security deposit.
Landlord unable to show receipts
If the landlord can't show receipts for the damages, they must still provide a list of the costs along with any other evidence they have to show what they paid for repairs. They must explain why they cannot produce the receipts.
When is a security deposit returned?
Sometimes there are time limits for when a landlord must return a security deposit.
- 4 units or less: There are no specific rules.
- 5 or more units: The landlord must return the security deposit within 45 days after the tenants move out.
Updated: February 2018