When you pay a security deposit, you should be able to expect to get it back. Unfortunately, so many landlords make claims against security deposits that most tenants just consider the deposit lost money. In reality, if your landlord wants to keep your deposit, there's a legal process they must follow. Here's what they have to do and what you can do to respond.
The first thing a landlord has to do is prove that you caused them some sort of damage. This could be financial, like unpaid rent, or physical damage.
The important thing to understand about physical damage is that it does not include reasonable wear and tear. If the walls need touch up paint or the carpets are more worn than they were when you moved in five years ago, the landlord can't charge you.
The landlord can only charge for things like big stains in the carpet, holes in the walls, or broken fixtures.
Send Timely Notice
If the landlord discovers damage, they must send you notice within a reasonable period of time after you move out. They can't come after you years after the fact when you probably no longer have any pictures you took on moving out.
Most states require notice to be sent within a certain number of days. If the landlord fails to give you notice, they may be unable to hold your security damage or file a lawsuit against you.
You Can Object to Their Notice
If a landlord sends you notice they intend to keep your security deposit, you can object. You can deny that there was damage when you moved out, say the damage was reasonable wear and tear, or say the landlord is asking for too much money.
You usually have a set number of days in which to send the landlord your written objection by certified mail. Otherwise, you waive your claim to your security deposit.
Going to Court
Even if you object to a landlord's claim, they can still choose to hold your deposit if they disagree with your objections and any evidence you provided. In that case, you will need to go to court to sue for the return of your security deposit.
Also note that if damages exceeded your security deposit, the landlord could sue you for the remaining amount.
To get help getting your security deposit or with other problems with your landlord, contact a local real estate lawyer like Blake Law Office.