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What Can a Landlord Deduct from a Security Deposit?

By Jarrod Heil

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Repayment of security deposits to former tenants can often be a touchy topic. Figuring out how much landlords must return can get pretty tricky, too.

When tenants move out, a landlord must inspect the property to determine the condition it was left in by the tenant. The condition determines whether the security deposit will be refunded partially or in full.

Landlords may deduct money from the security deposit for things like cleaning costs, repair costs and unpaid rent when the lease has ended. However, they cannot deduct money from the security deposit for basic wear and tear or while the lease is still active.

Many states have laws that define damage vs. wear and tear, which ensures both landlords and their tenants an equal right to any amount of the security deposit they may be entitled to.

A landlord who finds their place resembling a battle scene and smelling of mold throughout will likely be entitled to the entire security deposit. On the flip side, rentals that were left spick and span by the tenant will likely result in a full security deposit return.

Unfortunately, the latter tends to happen less often and the tenant leaves the place somewhere in between, so let’s take a look at a security deposit deductions list below.

What If a Tenant Hasn’t Paid Everything Before Moving Out?

If a tenant fails to pay rent or utilities associated with the property, the landlord may be entitled to deduct the amount needed to pay those costs from the security deposit. In addition, if a tenant breaks the lease early and doesn’t pay the remaining months, the landlord may be able take a portion or all the security deposit.

Laws differ throughout states, so it’s best to research your individual state’s stance on the matters.

How Much Can a Landlord Charge for Cleaning?

Unless landlords want to ask a tenant for more money or take them to court over cleaning costs that exceed the original security deposit, they typically can’t charge more than the original security deposit.

Cleaning costs are determined by the landlord. However, landlords should not charge an exorbitant amount more than it would cost to hire professional cleaners. If it’s truly necessary, they can deduct the entire security deposit for cleaning expenses.

Cleaning Charges That Can Be Deducted

  • Carpeting or rugs stained by animals or spilled food and drink
  • Mold and mildew buildup in the bathroom, laundry room or related area
  • Dirty bathtubs, toilets, mirrors, sinks or related appliances
  • Excessive grime in the kitchen caused by cooking
  • Extermination of fleas and pests that were caused by the tenant
  • Buildup on non-carpeted floors due to irregular cleaning

Cleaning Charges that Cannot Be Deducted

  • Carpeting or rugs stained by normal wear and tear
  • Dusting blinds, curtains, fans and other materials that naturally attract dust
  • Stains on old cabinets or fixtures that have lost their coating

How Much Can a Landlord Charge for Damages?

Reasonable charges for tenant damage can far exceed the security deposit amount. Hopefully, you never have to deal with that issue. If you do, it’s important to remember that a landlord can charge as much money as it takes to repair damages to their rental unit.

But it’s worth noting, unless you take your former tenant to court, you’ll likely never see a penny more than the security deposit.

Can you charge a tenant for carpeting? Yes and no. You may not charge a tenant for normal wear and tear to a carpet, such as minor stains and dark patches. However, you can charge a tenant to replace a carpet that’s been burned, ripped or stained by an animal. Let’s take a closer look at some damage that can and cannot be deducted.
Damage Charges That Can Be Deducted

  • Replacing carpeting or rugs that have been ripped, burned, torn or stained by an animal or an event that isn’t considered normal wear and tear
  • Broken or stained tiles or flooring throughout the home caused by something like spilling food or leaving windows open to rain water
  • Large or excessive holes or marks on walls or cabinets
  • Missing blinds, curtains or window screens
  • Broken appliances due to misuse and negligence, such as overloading the dishwasher
  • Broken windows, doors, handles and locks

Damage Charges that Cannot Be Deducted

  • Replacing carpeting or rugs due to minor stains caused by normal wear and tear
  • Faded paint on walls or appliances
  • Small nail or tack holes in the walls
  • Broken appliances not due to misuse or negligence, such as mineral deposits clogging sinks and dryer thermostat giving out
  • Warped windows or doors caused by excessive exposure to sunlight or heat

Keep in mind that cleaning expenses and damage costs are not limited to the previous lists. If you’re a tenant, ask your landlord if they have a copy of a cleaning and damage cost chart.

If you’re a landlord, it’s important to have landlord insurance to ensure you’re covered for any unexpected mishap that may occur on your rental property.

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