Security deposits can be a big source of worry when you’re moving, since you never know if your landlord will try to withhold some or all of your deposit.
Move.org surveyed renters to find out how many had had their security deposits withheld and why. From a sample of 100 participants, 10% reported having their deposits withheld, with 39% listing “cleaning costs” as the reason for withholding. Over 16% took legal action to try to get their money back, but only 11% succeeded.
Knowing how to prevent this from happening can save you a lot of time and money in the long run. To ensure you get your full security deposit back, Move.org has compiled a list of some of the most frequently asked questions about how security deposits work as well as advice on how to avoid getting charged for excessive cleaning costs.
Most Searched Questions About Security Deposits
How do security deposits work?
Security deposits are used to cover any potential damage tenants might cause to a unit during their lease term. Landlords generally require that you include your security deposit with your first and sometimes last month of rent when signing a lease. After you move out, the property is inspected for damages and the portion of the deposit not used to pay for repairs is returned.
What does a security deposit cover?
Security deposits cover any excessive filth or damage you may cause while occupying the property. Most landlords charge separate pet deposits for tenants who will be sharing their homes with furry friends. Basically, the rental unit must be returned to the landlord in the same shape it was in when you moved in.
Do security deposits get cashed?
Landlords must place security deposits in designated accounts, so yes, security deposit checks get cashed. A landlord will do this to ensure that the damages caused to a unit will be covered even if the tenant bails on their contract. Security deposits are usually cashed right away, so make sure you have the funds available when handing over the check.
Where are security deposits held?
In the majority of cases, deposits must be held in separate accounts and landlords are required to leave the funds untouched throughout your time in their unit. For example, a landlord can’t withdraw funds to cover repair costs while you are still living in the unit.
How much can a landlord charge for a security deposit?
The amount a landlord can charge for security deposits depends on the state. Most of the time, security deposits are limited to one or two months’ rent. Roughly half the states impose no limit on deposits, so landlords will usually adjust their deposit amounts to market value.
Are security deposits refundable?
It depends. Some security deposits are fully refundable provided you haven’t caused damage to the unit during your time there. Other deposits are only partially refundable to cover cleaning services post-move-out. Most lease agreements will tell you ahead of time, but if not, be sure to ask and read your contract before signing.
How much of my security deposit can I get back?
As previously noted, the amount returned depends on how much the landlord withholds to pay for necessary repairs. In some states, landlords are required to pay interest on security deposit amounts when funds are returned to the tenant. Some tenants receive full returns, while others actually end up owing the landlord even more money due to the costs of damages. We recommend you take clear photographs upon move-in and again when before moving out to have a visual record of the condition of the property in case any disputes arise.
Can a security deposit be used for unpaid rent?
Security deposits are not intended to cover unpaid rent. Most leases state this implicitly. Yet in our survey, 21% of participants said they had their deposit used to cover rent or utilities. If you break your contract or move out early, chances are your deposit will be used to cover rent while the landlord attempts to fill your empty unit.
When does a security deposit need to be returned?
This depends on specific state laws. Typically, funds must be returned within 14 to 30 days. In certain states it can be as long as 60 days. If money is withheld to pay for repairs, landlords must provide tenants with an itemized list of necessary work and associated costs.