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What Can a Landlord Deduct From a Security Deposit for Cleaning and Repairs?

Most landlords and property management companies ask for a security deposit — often equal to one month's rent — before the tenant or renter moves in. The security deposit offers the landlord reassurance if the tenant damages the rental unit or leaves without paying rent. A security deposit can also cover cleaning fees if there is excess filth in the rental unit.

Landlords, however, must follow state law when deducting the deposit. State deposit laws vary, so tenants with specific questions should consult their state security deposit laws.

This article explores the deductions landlords can make from a tenant's security deposit.

Normal Wear and Tear

Landlords cannot use the security deposit to cover the costs of normal wear and tear in a rental property. Normal wear and tear refers to defects resulting from expected ordinary wear over time.

The following is a list of examples of normal wear and tear:

  • Faded paint or wallpaper due to sunlight
  • Broken plumbing caused by everyday use
  • Dirty blinds and curtains
  • Rug wear caused by everyday use
  • Dents in walls from door handles
  • Faded curtains
  • Broken light bulbs
  • Replacement batteries for smoke detectors
  • Non-excessive nail holes in walls
  • Broken tiles or fixtures in bathrooms

Non-Normal Wear and Tear

Landlords can deduct from the deposit for property damages that exceed normal wear and tear. They can also deduct cleaning costs if applicable.

The following is a list of examples of damages that go beyond normal wear and tear:

  • Removing paint that the tenant added
  • Tears, holes, or burn marks on carpets or curtains
  • Broken windows and window screens
  • Broken doors and locks
  • Excessive filth or grime in or on the stove
  • Water damage

Other Allowable Deductions

In most states, landlords can deduct any unpaid rent and allowable late fees from the security deposit. One purpose of the security deposit is to make sure the landlord doesn't lose money if their tenant fails to pay rent.

Tips for Getting Your Entire Security Deposit Returned

First, check your lease or rental agreement for information on your security deposit. Some leases outline a time frame to return the deposit. If your lease is silent on this issue, check the security deposit laws of your state. These laws may limit the amount of the security deposit. Your state laws should also provide a time frame within which your former landlord or property manager must return your deposit or provide you with an itemized statement or list of deductions.

Although you can file a claim in small claims court to get your deposit back, you can also send a demand letter to your former landlord via certified mail with a return receipt. The return receipt can serve as evidence in a small claims court case. If your former landlord still does not return the deposit, you should consider going to small claims court to get your money back.

How Can I Ensure I Get All of My Security Deposit Back?

Getting your security deposit returned after the end of your lease should be one of your primary goals. Since landlords cannot charge for everyday wear and tear, you can focus on keeping the apartment in good condition.

While Moving In

Do a move-in inspection, and make sure you document any potential damage. Some property owners allow you to inspect independently, while others may accompany you. Give your landlord a copy of the inspection and any documentation during move-in. This inspection can serve as a baseline and evidence if you have to go to court for the return of your security deposit.

During Your Tenancy

You can also take measures while you are in the rental unit to help ensure your landlord returns all of your security deposit. A few examples of these measures include:

  • Professional cleaning
  • Repainting, if necessary
  • Taking care of minor repairs (such as changing light bulbs)
  • Reporting any damage to the landlord immediately

While Moving Out

Follow all the move-out procedures in your lease agreement. Many landlords ask for written notice of your intent to vacate the rental unit before the last month of your lease. This gives them time to vet and prepare for a new tenant.

Send your landlord a lease termination letter via certified letter and a return receipt that includes the following information:

  • Name
  • Phone number
  • Forwarding address
  • Proposed move-out date
  • Request for final walk-through/move-out inspection
  • Request for security deposit return

This letter ensures your landlord has a forwarding address and documents your request for a walk-through and security deposit return. The walkthrough allows your landlord to point out things that need repair. Making these repairs yourself can help preserve your security deposit.

Get Help

If you are experiencing difficulty getting your security deposit returned, consider speaking to a landlord-tenant attorney. Experts in landlord-tenant laws can provide solid legal advice.

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