What you need to know about security deposits

You usually must pay a security deposit when renting an apartment or a house. The average security deposit is equal to one to two months’ rent. Your landlord keeps your deposit in escrow until you move out.

Always inspect the property with your landlord when you move in and out. Take pictures of any pre-existing damage. This will help you if you need to go to court.

In what circumstances can a landlord keep your security deposit?

A landlord may keep all or part of your deposit in certain circumstances. These circumstances are:

  • Damage to the property, grounds or furnishings and fixtures aside from normal wear and tear damage that you, your pets or your guests cause
  • Unpaid rent
  • Cleaning fees after you move out

A lease can not state that the security deposit is non-refundable. Providing none of the above circumstances exist, the landlord must return all or part of your security deposit within 21 days after you move out. If they keep your deposit, they have to explain why they are keeping it.

What if your landlord will not return your security deposit?

If your landlord does not return your security deposit, you can:

  • Talk to your landlord to try and reach an agreement
  • Write your landlord a formal letter requesting a return
  • Sue in small claims court

Be sure to document any correspondence with your landlord. It will help you if you have to go to court.

Both you and your landlord have rights when it comes to security deposits. It is good to know them in the event of a dispute.