The majority of states hold landlords to strict guidelines as to the appropriate circumstances in which they must return security deposits. Landlords who violate these laws can be held to stiff penalties.
A security deposit is usually in the amount of one or two months' rent. It usually must be paid at the time that the Landlord and Tenant sign the lease. The landlord must place the funds in an escrow account and give the tenant any interest generated by such funds. Upon the termination of the lease, the landlord must return the security deposit to the tenant if no violations of the lease occurred. He or she may keep the security deposit or portion thereof for the amount of any damages, which can be proven, pursuant to the terms of the lease.
Basic “Wear and Tear” versus Excessive Damage
The general rule is that you are not responsible for normal wear and tear. For example, if the dishwasher must be replaced because it has simply worn out, that's the landlord's responsibility. See the bottom of this article for examples of repairs and damages that can and cannot be deducted from your security deposit.
If you or your guest cause damage by your unreasonable carelessness or deliberate misuse, however, you must pay for it. The cost of replacing the dining room carpet because you and your friends thought those pizza and BBQ sauce stains would magically disappear is probably on you. You must leave a rental unit at least as clean as it was when you moved in.
Because "normal wear and tear" can be interpreted in many different ways, disputes often arise. The bottom line is that the better you itemize and document the condition of your unit when you move in, the better case you'll have against a landlord who tries to gouge you on the way out.
Landlords are typically required to return security deposits within 14 to 30 days after you move out. The landlord must send, to your last known address, either:
Your entire deposit (plus interest, in some states and in some cities), or:
A written, itemized statement describing how the deposit was applied to back rent, cleaning, or repairs, plus the remainder of the deposit.
How To Get It Back
If your landlord fails to return your deposit when and how the law requires, you can sue the landlord in small claims court. If the landlord has intentionally and flagrantly violated the law, in some states, you can recover two or three times the amount of the deposit, plus attorneys' fees and other damages.
Ordinary Wear & Tear (Landlord’s Responsibility)