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Getting or Returning a Security Deposit: What You Need to Know About Security Deposit Refunds


Apr 01, 2020 by Tara Mastroeni

When it comes to returning security deposits, both landlords and tenants often find themselves unsure of how to proceed. The confusion likely stems from the fact that the regulations governing security deposits vary by state. In light of that, we'll take a quick look at what security deposits are. Then we'll cover each state's ruling on the topic and wrap it up by answering some common questions landlords and tenants have about security deposits. Keep reading to learn more about how the security deposit process works in your state.

What is a security deposit?

A security deposit is a lump sum of money that tenants give to their landlord before moving into a new property. Usually, this fee is required in addition to any advance rent payments. As the name suggests, security deposits are often collected to provide the landlord with a layer of financial protection in the event that the tenants skip out on rent payments or do any damage to the property during their stay.These deposits are typically refundable, so if the tenants make sure to keep the property in good condition, they can expect to get their money back when they eventually move out. That said, the exact terms governing security deposits will vary by state, as well as by individual lease, so both landlords and tenants should make sure they understand what their responsibilities are before signing on the dotted line.

Security deposit laws by state

As noted, every state has different regulations surrounding security deposits. Below is a summation of how each state handles these deposits, according to the American Apartment Owners Association. However, you'll want to consult a financial professional or refer to your state's individual law code for a full list of regulations.

Alabama

  • The landlord is required to mail the security deposit, minus any deductions, to the tenant's forwarding address within 60 days of the end of the lease.
  • If the landlord does deduct from the security deposit, they must provide an itemized list of damages to the tenant.
  • If the landlord does not return the tenant's security deposit within 60 days, "The landlord shall pay the tenant double the amount of the tenant's original deposit."

Alaska

  • If move-out notice is given, any refund and written notice will be given to the tenant within two weeks of the end of tenancy.
  • If any portion of the deposit is not being returned, the damages must be listed in writing with an explanation as to why.
  • If the tenant does not give notice, the landlord has 30 days from the end of tenancy to issue the refund and send written notice.

Arizona

  • Security deposits can be held to compensate for damages, missed rent, or if the tenant is evicted.
  • If any portion of the security deposit is being withheld, you must use the Arizona Disposition of Security Deposit form to explain why.

Arkansas

  • The landlord has 60 days from the termination of the lease to return a tenant's security deposit, minus any deductions for back rent or damages.

California

  • In California, landlords have 21 days to return the security deposit to the tenant.

Colorado

  • Landlords have a month after the end of the lease to return a tenant's security deposit, unless otherwise specified. However, the process can not take longer than 60 days.
  • Rent, repairs, and utilities are all acceptable reasons to withhold a portion of a tenant's security deposit.
  • Colorado Landlord-Tenant Laws require that the security deposit must be sent within a month of the end of the lease. If a portion is being deducted, an itemized list of costs and reasons must be provided.
  • The security deposit can be applied to unpaid rent if the tenant leaves before the end of the lease.
  • The landlord can also keep the deposit if the tenant signs a lease but never moves in.

Connecticut

  • The security deposit must be returned within 30 days of when a tenant moves out.
  • If all or a portion of the deposit is being withheld, the landlord must provide a written and itemized list explaining why.

Delaware

  • Landlords have 20 days from the date that the tenant has vacated the premises to return the security deposit. If there are any deductions, they must also provide an itemized list.

Florida

  • The security deposit must be returned to the tenant within 15 days, unless it is being held as compensation for damages.
  • If any portion of the deposit is being held, written notice must be sent to the tenant's last known address. It must also include the reason why.
  • If notice of a withheld security deposit is not given within 30 days, the landlord forfeits his or her right to it.
  • The tenant can file an objection to the landlord's claim to the security deposit. The losing party is responsible for attorney's fees and court costs.

Georgia

  • Except for any damages, the security deposit must be returned to the tenant upon termination of tenancy.
  • Tenants may take their landlord to court if they feel their security deposit is being wrongly withheld.

Hawaii

  • The landlord has 14 days after the termination of the lease agreement to return the security deposit to the tenant.
  • Unless the landlord can prove that the tenant vacated the property without informing the landlord in writing, an itemized list of charges and damages must be given.
  • Evidence of the total cost to fix any damages is also required, such as estimates or invoices.
  • If the landlord does not provide written notice to the tenant in time, they can lose their right to the deposit.
  • Either party can sue the other in small claims court if there is a disagreement about the retention of the security deposit.

Idaho

  • As long as the tenant has paid their rent and has not damaged the property beyond normal wear and tear, the landlord must return the tenant's security deposit within 21 days after the tenant has left the property.

Illinois

  • Landlords have 45 days from the date the tenant moves out to return the security deposit.
  • If, on the other hand, the landlord wants to keep part of the deposit, he or she has 30 days from the date the tenant moves out to give the tenant a written statement of damages, as well as each paid receipt.

Indiana

  • The security deposit must be returned to the tenant within 45 days of the termination of tenancy.
  • Landlords may also deduct from the security deposit for past rent and utilities due.
  • The security deposit must be sent to the tenant's forwarding address.
  • The landlord must provide the tenant with a list of alleged damages within the 45-day timeframe, or they forfeit their right to the deposit.

Iowa

  • The landlord must return the tenant's security deposit within 30 days of the termination of the lease.
  • If any portion of the deposit is withheld, the landlord must provide the tenant with a complete list of any damages, fees, repairs, or other expenses in addition to the remainder of the deposit.
  • The tenant can be rewarded up to $200 if the landlord does not return their security deposit within 30 days.

Kansas

  • If a portion of the security deposit is being withheld, the landlord has 14 days from the day the expenses for the damages were determined to return the balance of the deposit.
  • The tenant must demand a refund of their security deposit after termination of tenancy. The landlord has 30 days after that point to return it.
  • If the tenant does not demand their security deposit back within 30 days, the landlord is responsible for mailing it to their last known address.

Kentucky

  • A tenant's deposit must be returned to them within 30 to 60 days.
  • A list of any existing damage to the property must be provided to the tenant upon move-in.
  • Landlords must also provide a list of any damages and charges, along with the reasons why any portion of the security deposit is being withheld, upon move-out.
  • The tenant has the right to inspect the property after receiving the list of damages.

Louisiana

  • After the tenant moves out, the landlord has one month to return the deposit.
  • If the entire deposit is not returned, the landlord must provide a list of deductions.
  • The tenant is legally responsible for paying any additional charges for damages beyond what is covered by the security deposit.
  • The tenant must give at least 10 days notice of their move. Otherwise, the landlord can keep the deposit to offset any losses while finding another tenant.

Maine

  • The landlord must provide an itemized list of reasons for withholding any portion of the deposit.
  • The tenant can bring legal action against the landlord if they feel their security deposit is being wrongly withheld.
  • If the court rules against the landlord, the tenant may be given double the amount of the security deposit plus court costs and attorney fees.

Maryland

  • The landlord has 45 days after the end of tenancy to return the security deposit to the tenant.
  • If a landlord does not return the security deposit within that time frame and withholds it without cause, "the tenant has an action of up to threefold of the withheld amount, plus reasonable attorney's fees."
  • Unpaid rent, breach of lease, and damages are all acceptable reasons for keeping a portion of the security deposit.
  • The tenant may be present at the inspection of the property.
  • They also are entitled to receive written notice if any portion of the deposit is being withheld, along with the reasons why.

Massachusetts

  • The security deposit must be returned within 30 days of when the tenant vacated the property.

Michigan

  • The tenant must be sure to give the landlord a forwarding address within four days of terminating tenancy.
  • If the landlord believes the tenant caused damage to the property, he or she must provide the tenant with an itemized notice -- including an estimated cost for fixing each deduction -- within 30 days of termination of tenancy. Any remaining deposit amount must be sent with this notice.
  • The tenant then has seven days to say whether he or she agrees with the notice of damages.
  • If the landlord does not provide the itemized list of damages to the tenant within 30 days, he or she must send the tenant the entire deposit.

Minnesota

  • The security deposit must be returned with interest within three weeks of termination of tenancy or within five days of when the tenant leaves the building.
  • The landlord must give the tenant a written statement of the reasons for withholding any portion of the deposit.
  • If the landlord does not return the security deposit in time, the tenant is entitled to "the portion of the deposit withheld by the landlord and interest."

Mississippi

  • The landlord must return the security deposit within 45 days of the termination of the lease.
  • If any portion of the security deposit is withheld, an itemized list of all damages and charges must be given to the tenant along with the remainder of the deposit.
  • If the landlord does not return the deposit to the tenant in time, he or she may have to pay up to $200 to the tenant.

Missouri

  • The landlord has 30 days after the termination of the lease to return the tenant's security deposit.
  • A list of damages is required to be provided to the tenant if a portion of the deposit is being withheld.
  • If the security deposit is not returned, the tenant can recover up to twice the amount that is being withheld.

Montana

  • A signed, written statement of the condition of the property must be provided by the landlord upon move-in.
  • If that signed move-in statement is not provided, the landlord forfeits the right to the tenant's deposit upon move-out, unless there is clear proof that the tenant was the one who caused the damage.

Nebraska

  • The tenant must demand a refund of the deposit from the landlord and provide an address where it can be mailed.
  • The landlord has 14 days after that to return the deposit.
  • If a portion of the deposit is being kept, the landlord must provide the tenant with an itemized list of damages, including a written description.

Nevada

  • The security deposit must be returned within 30 days of the termination of tenancy.
  • An itemized list of deductions must be provided to the tenant if any of the tenant's security deposit is being withheld.
  • The landlord needs to return the remainder of the deposit to the tenant within 30 days of termination. Otherwise, the tenant is entitled to damages equal to the amount of the entire deposit.

New Hampshire

  • The security deposit must be returned within 30 days of when the tenant vacated the property.
  • A written agreement for when the security deposit should be returned must be provided if the landlord and tenant share the property, and the amount of the deposit is more than 30 days' rent.
  • If a written agreement is not provided by the landlord, the security deposit must be returned within 20 days of when the tenant vacates the property.

New Jersey

  • Landlords have 30 days to return the security deposit to the tenant.
  • However, in the case of fire, flood, or evacuation, it must be returned within five days.

New Mexico

  • New Mexico's landlords have 30 days to return the security deposit to the tenant.
  • An itemized list of deductions is required if any portion of the deposit is being withheld.

New York

  • Landlords must return a tenant's security deposit within a "reasonable time" after the tenant has left the property. Typically, 21 to 45 days is considered a reasonable time frame.

North Carolina

  • The security deposit must be returned within 30 days of the termination of tenancy.
  • The remainder of the security deposit must be returned to the tenant, along with an itemized list of damages, if any portion of the deposit is kept by the landlord.

North Dakota

  • The security deposit must be given back to the tenant within 30 days of when the tenant has given control of the rental property over to the landlord.

Ohio

  • The tenant must give the landlord a forwarding address upon termination of tenancy.
  • Written notice of any deductions for damages or past due rent must be provided within 30 days of the termination of tenancy.

Oklahoma

  • If any portion of the deposit is being withheld, the landlord must outline how it was spent in a written list.
  • The full security deposit and/or the itemized list must be given to the tenant within 30 days.
  • Tenants may sue their landlords if they feel their deposit is being wrongly withheld.

Oregon

  • The full security deposit must be returned within 31 days of when tenancy ends, or a written report must be given, explaining why a portion was kept and how it was used.
  • Tenants can file a lawsuit against the landlord for at least twice the amount of the security deposit if they feel their deposit was wrongly used.

Pennsylvania

  • The landlord has 30 days after move-out to return the deposit to the tenant.
  • If the landlord is keeping any portion of the security deposit, he or she must provide the tenant with a written, itemized list of damages, plus the cost of the fix, along with the remainder of the deposit.
  • If the landlord does not provide the tenant with either their deposit or the list within 30 days, they forfeit their right to the funds.
  • The tenant must provide the landlord with a new address upon termination of tenancy. Otherwise, the landlord is not required to send the deposit.

Rhode Island

  • A written, itemized list is required to be provided for any deductions from the security deposit.
  • The landlord has 20 days after the termination of tenancy to deliver that notice to the tenant, along with the remainder of the security deposit.

South Carolina

  • If the landlord intends to withhold part of the security deposit, an itemized list of deductions must be mailed to the tenant.
  • If the landlord does not return the security deposit, "the tenant may recover the property and money in an amount equal to three times the amount wrongfully withheld and reasonable attorney's fees."

South Dakota

  • Landlords have two weeks from the time the tenant moves out to return the security deposit.
  • An explanation must be provided as to why any deductions have been taken from the deposit.
  • The tenant may request an itemized list accounting for the deductions, at which point the landlord has 45 days to fulfill that request.

Tennessee

  • The security deposit must be returned to the tenant within 30 days.
  • Advance notice must be given if the landlord plans to keep any part of the deposit.
  • If any part of the deposit is kept, the tenant must be given an itemized list of damages upon moving out.
  • The tenant has the right to request a joint inspection upon move-out.

Texas

  • The security deposit must be given to the tenant within 45 days after the termination of tenancy, minus any deductions for damages.

Utah

  • If the landlord does not return the tenant's deposit at the end of the tenancy, they must provide a written list of the amounts and the reasons why they are not returning it.
  • Either the list or the deposit must be given to the tenant within 30 days of the date they moved out.

Vermont

  • The security deposit and written notice of any deductions must be returned to the tenant within 14 days of when the landlord becomes aware that the tenant has vacated the property.
  • In the case of seasonal tenancies that do not act as a primary residence, the landlord has 60 days to give back the deposit and written notice.
  • Deposits and written notice must be hand-delivered or mailed to the tenant's last known address.
  • If the 14-day deadline is not met, the landlord forfeits his or her right to the deposit.

Virginia

  • The landlord has 45 days from the termination of tenancy to return the security deposit, minus any deductions for damages.

Washington

  • At the time of security deposit payment, the landlord must give the tenant a checklist describing the previous condition of the property.
  • If no checklist was given, the tenant can sue the landlord to get their deposit back.
  • Either the deposit or a written statement explaining why the deposit is not being returned must be provided within two weeks of the end of tenancy.

West Virginia

  • The security deposit must be returned within 14 days after the termination of the lease.
  • If any portion of the deposit is being withheld, an itemized list of damages and charges must be provided to the tenant, along with the remainder of the deposit.
  • If the security deposit is not returned within the specified time frame, the tenant is entitled to up to two months' rent or twice the amount of the original security deposit.

Wisconsin

  • The security deposit must be returned within 21 days of the termination of tenancy.
  • If the tenant never moves into the property after being approved, the landlord is not obligated to return the deposit.

Wyoming

  • The security deposit (without interest) must be returned to the tenant within either 30 days of termination of the lease or 15 days of when the tenant provides the landlord with a new address, whichever is longer.

Common inquiries about security deposits

Both tenants and landlords often have questions about security deposits and how they work. With that in mind, below are some answers to common inquiries about security deposits.

How can a tenant ensure they will get their security deposit back?

Since every landlord is different, what you'll need to do to get your deposit back can vary. However, in general, it's a good idea to:

  • Repair any damage you may have done to the property.
  • Make sure you're current on your rent.
  • Thoroughly clean the apartment before you move out.
  • Make sure you return your keys.

How are security deposits returned?

Security deposits are typically returned by mail, either to the tenant's last known address or to a forwarding address.

How can a tenant negotiate a security deposit?

While it is possible to negotiate a security deposit, you'll want to be sure to do so before signing the lease. You'll likely have more luck if the landlord already knows that you're a good tenant, but there's no harm in making a reasonable request.

When are landlords allowed to keep security deposits?

The reasons why landlords are permitted to keep security deposits also vary by state. However, the most common reasons are in order to repair damages to the property that were caused by the tenant or as compensation for missed rent payments.

What can a landlord deduct from a security deposit for cleaning and repairs?

Again, this varies by state, but the most common interpretation is that the security deposit can be held when the necessary cleaning or repairs goes beyond "normal wear and tear."

The bottom line

No matter where you live, there is likely a clear procedure that needs to be followed for returning security deposits. Both tenants and landlords should make sure they're familiar with their state's policies on this topic before signing any binding paperwork. Once you're clear on your rights and responsibilities, you can do your part toward making sure that the deposit ends up with its rightful owner.

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