A security deposit is required when moving into a rental property to cover damages and unpaid rent. The deposit should not exceed two months rent and must be accompanied by a receipt. After moving out, the landlord has 30 days to return the deposit or provide a list of deductions.
motenanthelpLast updated 06/22/2023
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Security deposits when you move in
A security deposit is a payment required by a landlord from a tenant to cover the possible expense of any repairs for damages to the premises greater than normal “wear and tear" after you move out. A landlord may also use a security deposit to cover unpaid rent or lost rent due to a tenant moving out without providing adequate notice.
A security deposit cannot be more than two months’ rent.
When you pay your security deposit, get a signed receipt from your landlord. In most cases, your landlord cannot charge a “nonrefundable” security deposit.
Security deposits when you move out
A landlord has 30 days after a tenant moves out to either return the tenant’s entire security deposit or provide the tenant with a list of the amounts withheld and refund any remaining portion. The list of itemized damages and/or the security deposit refund has to be sent to the tenant’s last known address.
Steps before you move out
- Clean your home, including all appliances, floors, carpets, cabinets, closets, and bathrooms. If you do not, your landlord may charge you for cleaning or deduct the charges from your security deposit.
- Remove all of your belongings. If you leave anything, even trash, your landlord may charge you for the removal or deduct the charges from your security deposit.
- Take several photos of all rooms, inside all drawers, cabinets, closets, and appliances, as well as the outside of the home or apartment.
- Return all keys to your landlord and get a written key receipt.
- Schedule a walk-thru inspection of the unit with your landlord.
- Transfer all utilities out of your name.
Steps after you move out
- Send your landlord a letter with the address to which your security deposit refund can be sent. You do not have to give your landlord your new address. It’s ok to give another address where you can receive mail at, such as a P.O. Box or a family member’s home.
- Mail the letter to the landlord by regular mail and by certified mail, return receipt requested.
- Keep a photocopy of your letter. If you aren’t able to make an actual photocopy, take a picture of it with your cell phone.
A landlord may only keep the security deposit to pay for unpaid rent, damage to the unit (other than normal wear and tear), and monetary damages caused by early lease termination. If you believe your landlord has wrongfully withheld any portion of your security deposit, you could send a letter demanding the return of your security deposit and include the following:
- The date you moved out;
- Demand that your landlord return your security deposit within ten (10) days of the date of the letter; and,
- An address to which the landlord can mail the security deposit refund to you. But, again, you do not have to give the landlord your new home address. If possible, use a P.O. Box or a friend’s or family member’s address where you can receive mail.
Mail the letter by regular mail and by certified mail, return receipt requested. Also, keep a photocopy of your demand letter. If you aren’t able to make an actual photocopy, take a picture of the letter with your cell phone.
If your landlord still does not return your security deposit, you can file a lawsuit in Small Claims Court.
Filing a lawsuit in Small Claims Court
If a landlord wrongfully withholds all or any portion of the security deposit, a tenant is entitled to two times the amount wrongfully withheld.
A small claims lawsuit can be filed against a landlord in the Circuit Court - Small Claims division in the county where the rental property was located. A filing fee is usually required but you may ask the court to waive the fee. You can ask the small claims clerks for the form to make that request.
When you go to court, you should bring with you all evidence you have that supports your claim for the return of your security deposit. That evidence might include:
- proof that you paid the deposit;
- proof that your rent was paid in full until the day you moved out;
- proof of the condition of the home at the time you moved out if you left it clean and in good condition;
- a copy of the demand letter you sent to the landlord;
- text messages or emails from or to your landlord;
- any other evidence that supports your claim.
If your landlord believes that additional money is owed by you, it may file a counterclaim against you. If your landlord files a counterclaim against you and wins, you could have a money judgment against you.