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What to Do If Your Landlord Keeps Your Security Deposit

By Teri Dormer

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When you’re applying for a new apartment, you might be required to put down hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars in the form of a security deposit.

Not to be confused with the cost of rent or any application fees for your space, your security deposit acts as a safeguard between you and your landlord or apartment complex in the event that something is severely damaged when you move out. 

If you’re in the process of moving out, you may already be thinking about your security deposit return. Depending on how much you were required to put down in the first place, getting your security deposit back on an old apartment could be money you’re counting on to furnish the new one. 

But what can you do if your landlord refuses to give your money back? Here are three important tips on how to get your security deposit back from a contentious landlord.

1. Know Your Security Deposit Return Laws 

The most important tool at your disposal for successfully getting a security deposit return is the law. While you may not want to jump into the deep end with legal accusations (especially if you aren’t prepared to back them up), knowing what you’re legally entitled to can help shape your conversations with a difficult landlord. 

Local laws surrounding security deposits are different everywhere, so before you even give notice that you’ll be terminating your lease, make sure you know what you need in order to qualify for getting your security deposit back.

The law often stipulates how long a landlord can hold on to your security deposit after moving out, so make sure you know what kind of timeline your landlord is legally allowed to work within.

You may not want to wait 30 days (or more) to get back the deposit money you’re entitled to, but it can take that long in some cases.

2. Write a Security Deposit Return Letter

If you’re having difficulty getting your security deposit back from your landlord, the first step is to draft a security deposit return letter or security deposit return form. These documents help put into writing both that you’re requesting a return on your deposit and the date you requested it.

If your landlord has already refused to return your deposit, ensure your letter drafts out all the reasons you believe this decision to be invalid. Include as many pictures and details as you can so there’s clear evidence to support your request. 

Doing your homework before sending off a strongly worded demand letter is important, and you should include all of the legal requirements you’ve learned about the deposit return process so your landlord knows you’re educated and knows what you’re entitled to. 

Before sending off the letter, make a photocopy for yourself in case getting your security deposit back escalates even further. 

3. Get a Security Deposit Back Legally  

If you’ve requested a return on your security deposit, both verbally and in writing, to no avail, you may have no choice but to pursue legal action.  

Before making the decision to take your landlord to small claims court or to hire an attorney, double-check that you’ve exhausted all other options first. Submitting a security deposit return form or letter can help support your case if things get worse or your landlord won’t budge. 

Suing your landlord can be an expensive and time-consuming ordeal, but if they’re refusing to return your security deposit, or only offered a partial return that doesn’t seem fair, legal action may be your only recourse.

To help mitigate the cost, you can look for an attorney that works on contingency, meaning they only get paid if you do, too. 

A Successful Security Deposit Return 

You didn’t make paying your security deposit a hassle when you signed your lease, and your landlord shouldn’t make returning your security deposit difficult when it’s time to move. 

Legal action against a difficult landlord isn’t ideal, so make sure you know the laws and take all the necessary steps to facilitate an amicable arrangement first. If all else fails, make sure you’ve developed a paper trail along the way to support your case.