Security Deposits, Part IV – Options if the landlord refuses to return the deposit


Posted by Richardson Griswold April 19, 2011

Our final blog post in the series on security deposits will discuss a tenant’s options if he or she feels their landlord is wrongfully deducting or withholding the security deposit after move-out.

The landlord is required to provide the refund of the deposit (if any amount of the deposit was not used in restoring the property) and provide an accounting for how the deposit money was spent within 21 days of the tenant’s move-out.  The tenant should contact the landlord if 21 days have passed since move-out and the tenant hasn’t received any money and hasn’t heard from the landlord.   Another common situation arises when the tenant does receive money and/or accounting within the 21 day period, but feels that the landlord is wrongfully keeping either a portion or the full amount of the security deposit.

The first step would be for the tenant to contact the landlord to ask for a refund of the security deposit.  If the landlord did not provide the tenant with an itemized statement outlining what the deducted amount was used for specifically, then the tenant should request one (this is required by law as discussed in this article).  The landlord also must provide receipts that back up the itemized statement.   Without looking over the accounting, it will be impossible for the tenant to decide whether the security deposit deduction was fair and lawful.

If the landlord is uncooperative or the tenant does not believe the landlord deducted the money from the security deposit for any of the lawful reasons (discussed in this article), then an option would be taking the landlord to small claims court to ask the Court to order the landlord to refund all or a portion of the security deposit.  In small claims court, the tenant can ask for up to $7,500.00.  If the tenant is asking for more than $7,500, the tenant would have to file a civil lawsuit.  In either a small claims suit or a civil suit, the outcome is unpredictable.  To win a case against a landlord, the tenant must convince the judge using facts and records.   Any court case is difficult and abiding by all the specific rules can be confusing.  Using the tips posted in the previous articles about security deposits, like requesting an initial walk-through inspection prior to move-out, can steer tenants away from situations like this.

It is recommended you consult with a real estate attorney about your landlord-tenant concerns and inquiries.


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