A security deposit is a fixed amount of money that a tenant pays the landlord upon moving into a property, to cover any damages that might occur during occupancy. The landlord or property manager is not allowed to spend this money, keeping it in a separate interest-bearing bank account, so that it can be returned to the tenant at the end of the lease, assuming no damage was done. While the concept is simple, the security deposit has caused quite a few problems between tenants and landlords, and more often than not, the courts have gotten involved.
As a tenant, it is important to know your rights and responsibilities regarding the security deposit. Here are a few tips to help keep you out of a security deposit scandal.
- Security deposits can be negotiable, so don’t be afraid to haggle. There are no predetermined minimum amounts that property managers or landlords have to charge.
- Some state laws set a maximum amount that you can be charged for a security deposit. In Florida, there is no limit in place on how much can be charged. But other states are different, so do your homework.
- Read the lease before signing on the dotted line. Again, each state has different laws on what landlords can deduct from your security deposit (ie, damage, missed rent, etc). Know what you’re getting into before committing.
- It might sound great to pay less than a full month’s rent for a deposit, but if that’s what’s being asked, you may want to think twice. But getting that money back at the end of your lease can really help with moving expenses. Plus, you’ll be covered if you have a hard time getting your rent together one month.
- Understand that there are fees associated with cleaning your unit when you leave. Once again, state laws vary here, but you should be able to get your landlord to agree on terms before signing the lease.
- Upon moving in, take a good look around and point out all the flaws. Document, document, document. Pictures are a great way to show any pre-existing damage.
- While your landlord is permitted to keep your last month’s rent, plus sue for any other unpaid rent if you break your lease, they are not allowed to keep your security deposit. That money is yours, held in trust, unless you forfeit it through damage
- Establish when you’ll receive your deposit back. Laws vary on this too, so be sure to do some research.
- Take action if your landlord refuses to return your security deposit. According to a recent article from Buildium.com, 26% of renters don’t get their security deposit back and 36% of them don’t get an explanation about why not. Consider writing your landlord a demand letter for return of security deposit, ensuring that you have a paper trail in case you decide to head to court.
Smart Condo Management
Learn how we can help you manage your property!