Tenants Rights for Getting a Deposit Back


When a tenant moves into an apartment or rental home, the landlord collects a security deposit. This deposit is typically equal to one month's rent. In some cases and in some localities landlords require two months' rent. This amount is paid in addition to the first month's rent before the tenant moves in. When the tenant moves out, the landlord must return the security deposit minus any damages or money owed. Landlords are not always fair when it comes time to return the security deposit. The tenant has rights that can help him deal with this problem.

Security Deposit Plus Interest

Landlords are often required to place security deposits into interest-bearing savings accounts and must pay the tenant interest on the deposited money. In some states, the landlord must follow this rule only if she owns over a certain number of units. For example, in Illinois, this only applies to property owners who own more than 35 units. Landlords required to keep these accounts must pay the tenant interest on a yearly basis in most cases. In some states they must pay the interest when the tenant moves out.


Landlords will make deductions from the security deposit to pay for damage to the unit. Some landlords will also deduct money from the security deposit to cover unpaid rent, but this is not legal in all states. In these cases the landlord must sue for unpaid rent, not deduct it from the security deposit. The landlord cannot nit-pick over every item in the apartment that may not be as good as new. Some items will need repair due to normal wear and tear and this will not be the tenant's fault or responsibility. The landlord may not deduct money from the security deposit for faded paint, worn carpet, worn door hinges or locks, holes due to missing door stops, dirty blinds and burnt out light bulbs. The landlord may charge for holes in the walls from artwork or altercations, pet damage to carpet, holes in windows and doors, broken or missing blinds, flea extermination, excess bathroom mildew, broken refrigerator shelves and dirty appliances.

Tenant Responsibility

There are some things the tenant can do to make sure he gets his security deposit back on time. The tenant should move out on time, by the last day of the lease and not extend it even with the landlord's permission. Make sure the home is clean and in good repair. Return the keys to the landlord upon moving out. The most important thing a tenant can do is to give the landlord his forwarding address in writing when moving out.

Waiting Period

The landlord does not have to return the security deposit on move-out day. She actually has 15 to 45 days, depending upon the state where the property is located. Expect the security deposit and/or a letter from the property owner that itemizes any deductions and returns the balance of the money.

Protecting Yourself

To make sure you are not charged for damages it is wise to make a list of existing damage upon move-in and take pictures. When you move out, compare this list to current damage and go over it with your landlord. Take pictures of the the unit when you move out as well.

Taking Action

If the security deposit is not returned within the time period allowed by law and the landlord does not send a letter stating why, the tenant must take action to get his money back. You can also take action if you feel the landlord has deducted more money than necessary. Most people will sue the landlord in small claims court, but some states have a complaint department that handles these issues.

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