The process of moving homes can consume a significant amount of your time, energy, and resources. When you have moved out of a rental, you expect the landlord to return your security deposit in full. But there are instances where the landlord could hold on to the security deposit long after you moved out. What should you do in such a case?  

Causing a scene at their residence or place of work could relieve some stress. But it will not get your money back. On the other hand, if you are tactical and systematic, you could get the entire deposit back and maybe even more. Here’s what you should do if you’ve moved out but your landlord has not returned your security deposit.

security deposit

Refresh your understanding of tenant rights.

A fresh knowledge of tenant rights could be your deadliest weapon. But, few renters bother to learn their rights. Many consider the process taxing. 

Fortunately, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has a webpage that makes it so much easier to learn your rights. 

Read through your respective rental laws and tenant/landlord rights and responsibilities. Be thorough on what you should do to get the deposit back fast. Check if there could be a valid reason for the landlord’s reluctance. 

A landlord could have the right to hold on to your security deposit under the following circumstances:

  • If they are yet to inspect the property. 
  • If there are blemishes to landlord-owned appliances, missing keys, or damage to the property 
  • If the property still needs cleaning. 
  • If you moved out of the property without giving proper notice under the tenancy deed. 
  • If there are unpaid bills or rent arrears.

The landlord would use the money to cover lost rental income, repair damages, or pay for cleaning services. It is crucial to know your rights and obligations and adhere to the rules. 

Follow up with the landlord.

If you are unhappy about the state of your security deposit, reach out to the landlord and find out why. Perhaps they are experiencing a genuine delay. If there is no “bad faith,” you could try and hold on for a few days. 

 Try to work things out and avoid complications. 

Once the landlord points out the reason for the delay, let them write down the new request. It could be in an email or a text message. The written request then becomes a contract which is admissible in legal processes.  

Perhaps the landlord deducted some money from your security deposit. If that’s the case, remind them to give you an itemized statement. Scrutinize it and if anything does not seem right, ask them about it. Remember, you are not responsible for fixing normal wear and tear. 

Write a demand letter.

If the follow-up with the landlord does not yield satisfactory results, consider demanding your money back. Write a letter of demand that is:

  • Concise about the main facts and why you believe the landlord still owes you. 
  • Thorough and includes duplicates of agreements and relevant correspondences such as your notice to vacate and the follow-up communication. 
  • Clear about your demand and has a time cap. For example, you could demand reimbursement of the entire security deposit within 14 days.
  • Highlight relevant state laws. 
  • Be clear about your intention to take legal action if necessary.

Then make copies of the letter before sending it to the landlord. 

Take legal action – file the matter in a small claims court.

Hopefully, the landlord will take action on your strong-worded letter. If they don’t respond by the deadline, or if you are not satisfied with the response, you can sue the landlord in a small claims court. 

The rules of small claims courts differ according to the jurisdiction. For example, in California, you can sue your landlord in a small claims court for 2 x the amount of your security deposit if your landlord did not return your security deposit in “bad faith. Some jurisdictions allow you to include interest and punitive damages where the landlord is found to have acted in bad faith. 

Filing a case in a small claims court is not complicated. Plus, you don’t have to hire an attorney and incur significant bills. But, a legal mind will help you understand the relevant laws, how they apply, the procedures, and your rights and obligations. Don’t rule out legal help yet.  

Bring all the evidence and witnesses where possible. The landlord will also get a fair hearing. 

Hopefully, the judge will rule in your favor, and you will receive your security deposit back. 

Be proactive. 

Following up, writing a demand letter, and suing in a small claims court consumes time and energy. Planning before moving could help avoid the debacle. The following steps can help avoid a confrontation with the landlord:

  • Refresh your knowledge about tenant rights and obligations. 
  • Inspect the property with the landlord before moving in. Take note of the state of cleanliness and photos of anything that stands out.
  • Double-check how much the security deposit and the terms of return. 
  • Take responsibility, clean the property and fix any damages. 
  • Do another walk-through with the landlord when you are ready to vacate.

We hope you found this blog post Advice If Your Landlord Won’t Return Your Security Deposit useful. Be sure to check out our post Home Security Tips for Renters for more great tips!

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