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.
The landlord can keep a deposit until after the tenant moves out so that the landlord can check the unit for damages.
After the tenant moves out, landlords can keep portions of a security deposit for any rent a tenant owes, and for the costs or damages the tenant causes. The lease will usually 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.
Using a security deposit to pay for rent
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.
Can a landlord keep a security deposit?
Yes. The landlord can deduct from the security deposit any rent the tenant owes, including the last month's rent. The tenant can be evicted if they try to use their security deposit as rent. The landlord can also deduct from their deposit some or all of the cost of repairing damage that the tenant or their guests caused. The landlord cannot keep money from the deposit for normal wear and tear to the apartment.
Written statement of damages
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 give the tenant the written statement within 30 days after they move out. The landlord must list the actual or estimated cost of repair and give receipts for repairs. The landlord does not have to send the tenant a statement if they kept the security deposit because the tenant owed rent.
Note: The law about returning a tenant's security deposit will soon change. Beginning on January 1, 2018, a landlord will have to give the tenant receipts that show the costs to repair the tenant's damage to the apartment.
The landlord will have to give the receipts or return the security deposit to the tenant in person or send them to the tenant's last known address. The landlord may also email the receipts. The landlord will not be held responsible for not providing the receipts or returning the security deposit if the tenant does not provide a current mailing address or email.
The new law says that if a landlord can not provide receipts for the costs to fix the tenant's damage, then the landlord will have to provide list of the costs along with any other evidence the landlord has to show what he paid for repairs.
When is a security deposit returned?
There are no specific rules that require a landlord who owns a building with 4 or fewer apartments to return the tenant's security deposit within a certain amount of time. Instead, the landlord has a reasonable amount of time to look for hidden damage, like a clogged drainpipe in the apartment after the tenant moved out.
A landlord with 5 apartments or more must return the security deposit within 45 days after the tenant move out. If a landlord claims that a tenant damaged the apartment, but fails to give them a written statement of the damages, the landlord still must return the security deposit in full within 45 days.
It is recommended that a tenant wait at least 45 days after they have moved out and returned the keys to the landlord before they bring a lawsuit.