Lawyer Gal's Blog

A Young Lawyer's Perspective

Security Deposit: Can your Landlord keep it? College student 101.

I’ve had a few colleges students ask me about security deposits, especially since graduation often signals the end of a lease.   Slum-landlords prey on students because frankly, they can. [location location location!]

But the security deposit question isn’t limited to students, and is worth knowing.  The neat part: you really don’t need an attorney for security deposit disputes so long as you know these little tips.   So here they are:

-Fortunately, the legal nuances of security deposits are set forth in clear, concise statutory language.  This is why you don’t need an attorney – there is no reason for case-law research to “interpret” your situation, which often arises for vague statutes [and of course, criminal cases].  Rather, the statute, broken down, says:

1. Landlord must return to you the s.d within 30 days of the lease ending.  There is this silly little thing called the “mailbox rule,” which basically means in this context that so long as the landlord sends the deposit in 30 days, he is in compliance even if it arrives in 50 days [say, lost in mail].

2. If the landlord finds the rental in dirty condition or damaged, he may subtract damages from the s.d.  However, each subtraction must be clearly described and itemized, in writing.  He can’t just say “damage: $400.”  He must account for that money!  For example:

  1. carpet cleaning – $75 [this is very cheap!]
  2. wall repair in bedroom on bottom floor $55
  3. broken window in living room $150


3.  What happens if one of your drunk friends broke the door window.  Does that mean the landlord can charge you for a new door? Nope! Not if repair can sufficiently remedy the problem.  Watch out for this with appliances, like dryers, where a shady landlord might be tempted to replace the item.

4.  If landlord fails to comply with the aforementioned requirements, then you can recover the amount of money wrongfully withheld, plus attorney’s fees.  Again, I’m going to be honest and tell you: you don’t really need an attorney for this one, folks.  All you have to do is go to small claims court, which is fairly self-explanatory.  Just call the clerk or look on the municipal court website.

5. You must provide your forwarding address, in writing, to the landlord within 30 days of termination of lease/moving out.

6.  What about wear and tear?  This is okay, especially if you’ve lived there a while.  The landlord cannot use the s.d to fix ordinary wear and tear, such as worn carpets, faded paint, minor nicks in wall, etc.

What if your landlord just subtracts money without an explanation?  Send him a letter!  Threaten small claims…let him know you are serious.  Or, if you really want to game, call your cool attorney friend and maybe she’ll give you some pro bono work to send a letter. 🙂


May 18, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment