What Can a Landlord Deduct From Your Deposit? A Primer for Current and Former Renters

Maybe you didn’t think twice when you put a big security deposit on that fancy apartment two summers ago. But now that you’re getting ready to move again, you might be wondering how much of that deposit you’ll actually get back.

Believe it or not, your deposit isn’t at the mercy of your landlord. Tenants have rights, and landlords have limitations on what they can deduct from your deposit.

In Florida, for example, “if the landlord fails to return the security deposit in a timely manner, or deducts for normal wear and tear, then the tenant can sue the landlord to get their deposit back and the landlord will have to pay the tenant’s attorney fee,” says Larry Tolchinsky, a real estate lawyer and partner at Sackrin & Tolchinsky in Hallandale Beach, FL.

But to avoid getting to that point, it’s important for tenants to understand the basics on deposits. In most states, the timely return of your deposit means there’s a deadline—such as 30 days—so be sure to leave a forwarding address.

When landlords deduct from your deposit, they will typically include an itemized statement explaining how the deposit was applied. In California, for example, if a landlord deducts any more than $126, they must provide receipts for their deductions.

Landlords can’t deduct from your deposit for any old reason; there has to be a legit circumstance. The rules may vary from city to city (or state to state), so read up on what your landlord can and can’t do in your area. But, in general, here are some things landlords can deduct from your deposit.

Nonpayment of rent

Unemployment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit many tenants hard, rendering them unable to pay rent. Some landlords and management companies have offered rent relief, but others have claimed that unpaid rent is unpaid rent. In this situation, landlords can collect unpaid rent—and late fees—from your deposit as necessary.

“Rent that is not paid is considered damages when a tenant vacates,” says Eric Drenckhahn, a real estate investor and property manager, who runs the blog NoNonsenseLandlord.com. “A tenant cannot use the damage deposit to pay their rent without the landlord’s approval, but a landlord can deduct it for nonpayment after a tenant has left.”

Unpaid utilities

Forgetting to pay your utility bill happens. But if you pay for things like trash and water through your property management company, be aware that your landlord could tap your security deposit to cover any bills you missed.

Tolchinsky says there is no black and white law on this, but it is possible. It all depends on the terms of your lease and local rules governing the jurisdiction that you reside in.

Abnormal cleaning costs

If you left the place trashed and filthy, expect your landlord to dig into your deposit. Landlords can deduct from your deposit for excessive dirtiness, beyond normal cleaning costs.

Drenckhahn says the place should be “broom clean,” or as clean as when you moved in.

“Dirt and grease left behind is not wear and tear,” says Drenckhahn. “Examples of excessive dirtiness includes removing stains from the carpet, replacing the carpet due to a cat using a closet for a litter box, or replacing door trim due to cat scratches.”

Doing a little cleaning before leaving isn’t a bad idea, but it doesn’t guarantee it’ll save your security deposit.

Tolchinksy says if a tenant hires a professional cleaner, rents a steam cleaner, or buys paint to paint the walls, he or she “should maintain all invoices and receipts” to provide proof to the landlord.

Damage to the property

Security deposit laws allow a landlord to deduct from a security deposit for any damage. This is different from normal wear and tear, such as faded paint or worn carpet that is naturally occurring and not due to the tenant. Examples of damage to the property include a broken bathroom vanity, cracked kitchen countertop, or broken doors.

Tolchinsky says it’s a good idea for a tenant to request a move-in and a move-out checklist and document by pictures and video the condition of the apartment.

Items left behind

Packing and moving everything you own is a huge undertaking. But regardless of how exhausted you are, don’t leave any items behind; it could be a costly mistake.

“Mattresses and box springs left behind are expensive to get rid of, and you will be charged accordingly,” says Drenckhahn. “It is not unusual to be charged $50 or more for each piece.”

If you do need to get rid of a bunch of large items, hire a junk hauling company, try to sell them online, or look into donating them to charity.

Breaking the lease

In some circumstances, breaking your lease is the only option. But breaking your lease early makes it less likely that you will reunite with your deposit.

A landlord can keep all, or part, of your deposit to cover costs if you break your lease early, per landlord-tenant state laws and what’s written in your lease contract. If you can, try to move when your lease is up.

“In my places, you are required to be out by 10 a.m. There is no late checkout, as I have tenants generally moving in the next day,” says Drenckhahn. “When you have the place clean, and even move out a few days early, it’s very easy to refund 100% of the damage deposit.”

Source: realtor.com

Housing, civil rights groups ask Congress for $25B

A large partnership of housing and civil rights organizations reached out on Monday to congressional leaders advocating for further relief for homeowners in the next COVID-19 stimulus package.  

The letter was signed by representatives of more than 350 housing and civil rights organizations, including American Bankers Association, Mortgage Bankers Association, National Association of Realtors, National Association of Home Builders and the Housing Policy Council, the NAACP, National Urban League, National Fair Housing Alliance and National Consumer Law Center.

The letter calls for $25 billion in direct assistance to homeowners facing hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least $100 million for housing counseling, and just under $40 million for the Fair Housing Initiatives Program.

Of the approximately 3.8 million homeowners past due on their mortgages, over half of them are persons of color, according to Census Bureau.

Recent homebuyers that relied on low- or no-down payment loans from FHA, VA or the Rural Housing Service are at particular risk, the group contends, noting that even six months of forbearance can put borrowers underwater on their mortgages, owing more than their home is worth.


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“Moreover, these borrowers are predominantly Black and Latinx families, first-time buyers and low to moderate-income families,” the letter says. “Mortgage payments assistance will be critically important to the nearly 3 million borrowers that remain in long-term forbearance plans from their mortgage servicers. We cannot begin to tackle the racial homeownership and wealth gaps if we do not take steps to prevent a wave of COVID-induced foreclosures and loss of home equity.”

The group is hoping the bulk of the requested $25 billion comes through the recently reintroduced Homeowner Assistance Fund, which can be used by state housing finance agencies. In the letter to Congress, the group states that the HAF can help homeowners by providing direct assistance with mortgage payments and get into affordable loan modifications, while assisting with utility payments, property tax and insurance payments, homeowner association dues and other support to prevent the loss of home equity.

The outreach from housing and civil rights groups comes at a pivotal time for the American housing industry. Recently appointed Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said she will play a key role in pushing the Biden administration’s economic agenda on Capitol Hill – which includes aggressive aid distribution in order to avoid an even longer recession.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly said his administration is focused on providing aid for those in need of affordable housing, and his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was recently voted into the budget reconciliation process in order to speed up passage. The plan calls for an additional $30 billion in funding for emergency rental, energy and water assistance for hard-hit households, plus $5 billion in emergency assistance to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

All of this at a time in the country where Black homeownership has declined year-over-year, according to a recent Census Bureau report, and the percentage of Americans experiencing housing insecurity has risen to 9.5% – up from 7.2% in late 2020.

“A critical lesson of the Great Recession is that the communities most impacted need targeted, early intervention,” the group wrote in the letter. “Acting now to include these key provisions in the pending COVID-19 relief package will help stem what could be a damaging housing crisis in the U.S. concentrated in low income communities and communities of color.”

Source: housingwire.com