When you buy a home, you're responsible for its repairs and maintenance. If you rent, the costs of routine maintenance are usually your landlord's responsibility. However, if you damage the property - either on purpose or by accident - you must usually pay for the repairs yourself. A security deposit guarantees that you won't move out and leave your landlord with a big bill for repairs for damage you caused.
Your Landlord Must Account for Your Deposit
In most states, a landlord is allowed to require a security deposit equal to at least one month's rent. Typically, your landlord must also tell you where the money is deposited for safekeeping while you're a tenant. Some states require landlords to place the money in an interest-bearing account. If you don't do any damage to the property, you should receive the interest at the end of your lease, as well as a refund of your deposit.
You Can't Decide How Your Deposit Is Spent
You might think that because you paid a month's rent in advance in the form of a security deposit, you don't have to pay your last month's rent when you decide to move out. This is only the case if your landlord approves the arrangement. This probably won't happen if you've caused any damage to the property.
Your Landlord Might Not Return Your Deposit
The damage your security deposit covers doesn't usually include "normal wear and tear." For example, if you live in the dwelling for five years and your footsteps wear down the carpet by the door, this is normal wear and tear. However, if your dog tears up the carpet, you're responsible for this damage. When you move out, your landlord can deduct the cost of replacing the carpet from your deposit, as well as any past due rent or the costs of cleaning the dwelling if you leave it dirtier than it was when you moved in. If these costs add up to more than your deposit, it's possible you might not get any part of it back.
Your Landlord Has Time to Return Your Deposit
If you're entitled to receive some or all of your deposit money back, your landlord usually doesn't have to give you the money the day you move out. In most states, landlords have grace periods of about a month. They can use this time to have the necessary work done to the property, so they know the exact costs to deduct. If your landlord makes any deductions from your deposit, some states require that you also receive copies of receipts for the work done.
A Real Estate Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding rentals and security deposits is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a real estate lawyer.