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Security Deposit Return Timelines

Security Deposit Return form

Most landlords ask for a security deposit before you can move into your new rental unit. The security deposit provides reassurance for the landlord if the renter damages the rental property or for unpaid rent. The deposit only covers damages to the rental unit, not the normal wear and tear of the property.

State laws, though varied, regulate security deposits. These laws can cover the amount of the security deposit and a timeline to return the deposit at the end of the lease term after the renter or tenant moves out. Your state laws determine security deposit amounts and returns. These laws outline how long your landlord has to return your security deposit (along with other deposit-related provisions).

Before Tenant Move-Out

Although your landlord must return your security deposit after you leave, there are some steps you can take to ensure a smooth process.

Lease Termination Letter

Check your lease for specific information on submitting a lease termination letter to your landlord. Your lease should identify the lease term, from move-in to move-out. Some landlords ask for a 60-day written notice, while others are OK with a 30-day written notice. Your lease agreement should advise the landlord of your intent to move out at the end of your tenancy.

Be sure to include the following:

  • Proposed move-out date
  • New address
  • Forwarding address, if different from the new address
  • A copy of your move-in inspection
  • A requested date to jointly inspect the rental unit after you move out

The goal is the full return of the security deposit and the interest from any interest-bearing account that property management used to hold your deposit. That means you want to ensure your former landlord has an address to send your security deposit. You are also creating a paper trail that will help you if you go to small claims court to get your security deposit returned.

Itemized Statements and Deductions

Under most state laws, landlords can make deductions for damages and costs like unpaid rent or unpaid utility bills. Damages do not include the normal wear and tear that happens with daily living,

Normal Wear and Tear

Some examples of normal wear and tear include:

  • Worn blinds or window treatments
  • Scuff marks on the floor or wall of the rental unit
  • Worn carpet

Problems like broken appliances or a hole in the wall are likely major damages, not normal wear and tear.

Itemized Deductions

Landlords must keep a record of any deductions from the security deposit. They should then prepare an itemized list of all the deductions. Suppose they are not returning the full amount of the security deposit. In that case, they should send their former tenant a copy of the list of damages and other deductions via certified mail to the forwarding address provided. They should also include the part of the security deposit they return to the renter, if applicable.

What Is the Time Frame To Return the Security Deposit?

The time frame to return a tenant's security deposit varies from state to state. Be sure to check your state law for more specific guidance.

In some states, like Vermont, landlords have up to 14 days to return a tenant's security deposit. In other states, like Connecticut, landlords have up to 30 days to return the deposit.

Tenant's Rights When a Landlord Doesn't Return the Security Deposit

If your landlord doesn't return your security deposit or provide you with an itemized list of deductions by the end of the appropriate time frame, you have options.

First, send your landlord or property management company a written letter via certified mail with return receipt demanding the return of your security deposit. You can file a small claims case if you do not receive a check or a response to your certified letter.

Small Claims Court

If your former landlord refuses to return your security deposit without a valid reason, you should consider filing a claim in small claims court. A lease agreement is a binding contract, and your landlord is in breach of the contract if they withhold your security deposit.

If you sent letters via certified mail with a return receipt, you should have a record of your attempts to get your security deposit. If the court sides with you, they will likely order your landlord to return your deposit. They may also assign up to three times the security deposit and attorney fees, if any, to your landlord. This applies to reasonable attorney fees.

Get Help

If you are trying to get your security deposit back, an experienced landlord-tenant attorney can help. They are experts in this niche area of real estate law and can offer sound legal advice. Speak to a qualified local landlord-tenant attorney today.

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