News & Resources

Preventing Security Deposit Disputes

Aug 26, 2010 Matt Roesly

The majority of conflicts between residential landlords and tenants usually revolve around the return or use of the rental security deposit.  These disputes arise when landlords for one reason or another will not fully refund the departing tenant's security deposit.  Conflicts between these two parties frequently end up in court and the courts are often sympathetic to the tenant.

The following are a couple examples of reasons landlords have used for not refunding a tenant's security deposit that don't hold up in court:  The tenant verbally indicates to the landlord that refunding the deposit after the statutory time limit is fine (depending on state it can be anywhere from 15 to 30 days).  This is a trap!  Tenants will sometimes do this because there is considerable damage to the property and know the landlord will not voluntarily return the deposit.  Even though the tenant says 45 days is ok by them, it doesn't mean the courts will too.  These folks typically know the system as well or better than the landlord.  If the landlord breaks the rules, regardless of damage, there’s a good chance the court will be forced to side with the tenant. 

It takes longer than 30 days to put together a list of estimated damages.  Even if you're still waiting on contractors to give you estimates for repairs, you're better off sending whatever information you have within the statutory time limit - granted it may be just a list of the damages.  If the dispute eventually goes to court, you will need all the information on estimates available.

There are specific laws in each state regarding Landlord-Tenant disputes.  As a landlord it's imperative that you're thoroughly familiar with the specific laws within the states where you rent property.  And you must treat every security deposit as if a court will eventually resolve the matter.