Skip to Content

When Can My Landlord Keep My Security Deposit?

When Can My Landlord Keep My Security Deposit?

“When can my landlord keep my security deposit?” That might be your number one question when it’s time to move out. Getting your security deposit back can be difficult, especially if you aren’t sure about the process. We’ve all heard stories of landlords making up petty excuses in order to keep the deposit. That can make us nervous, too. What are the real reasons a landlord can keep your deposit?


Security deposits: what are they?

When you first move into your rental, your landlord will charge you (the tenant) an extra amount of money in addition to your rent and other fees. Your landlord holds onto this money in case of broken leases, property damage, cleaning charges, or unpaid rent / utilities. That’s your security deposit. Usually, it’s about one to three months worth of rent. If it’s not necessary for your landlord to pay for these things when you move out, you should receive your full security deposit back.

Need more help? This article has a section explaining how security deposits work in different states. And this article explains more in depth what a security deposit is used for.

When can my landlord keep the security deposit?

If you have: unpaid rent or utilities, broken the lease or rental agreement, damaged the rental beyond normal wear and tear, or left the unit in a state that needs to be cleaned further, your landlord can take money from your deposit in order to pay for these costs.

For cleaning costs, keep in mind your landlord can only charge you the amount that is necessary to make the unit as clean as it was when you first moved in. They cannot charge you to make the rental spotless if it wasn’t that way when you first arrived.


Here’s a few tips that can help you avoid disputes over your security deposit.

  • Hold on to paid rent and utility bill receipts.
  • Have a written agreement with your landlord of when you are moving out.
  • Discuss cleaning expectations with your landlord.
  • Document your rental unit during move in and move out.
  • Request your security deposit in writing when you leave the unit.
  • Thoroughly read lease and rental agreements.
  • Give your landlord your forwarding address.

For more in depth information about these tips, read through this article.

There can be disagreements over what counts as damage and what counts as normal wear and tear. Generally, the following list counts as normal wear and tear and should not be a reason for your landlord to use your security deposit.

  • Scuff marks
  • Loose rails or banisters
  • Damaged pipes (unless damaged by tenant)
  • Hole in a wall from a missing door stop
  • Light amounts of dust
  • Worn hinges
  • Faded, worn carpet, or carpet with furniture marks on it
  • Chipped or faded paint
  • Faded curtains
  • Burnt out refrigerator bulb

Generally, the following list counts as damage. These usually mean that your landlord can keep part or all of your security deposit.

  • Pet damage
  • Carpet / floor stains, burns, tears, or holes
  • Broken fixtures
  • Appliances damaged by tenant
  • Misused drains
  • Damaged walls, windows, blinds, screens, doors, or locks

How long until my security deposit is returned?

It depends on your state’s laws, but most require your landlord to return your security deposit within fourteen to thirty days of you moving out. If your landlord has charged you for anything, they will usually send an itemized list with details of why they are charging you and what these costs are.

What if my landlord tries to keep my security deposit?

Please keep in mind that we are not lawyers and that laws and procedures may vary in your state.

If your landlord is illegally withholding or taking money your security deposit, gather evidence. This can include receipts, photos of the unit when you moved in and out, or a written agreement to mutually break your lease. When your landlord sends you the itemized list of charges, check their math to make sure everything adds up.


Once you have evidence and have checked the math, contact your landlord in writing to negotiate. If you come to an agreement, put it in writing and have your landlord sign it to keep them accountable.

If you cannot come to an agreement, this article explains more about how to sue your landlord and what that procedure may be like. Reading about how to win a lawsuit against a landlord may also help you.

How else can Low Income Relief help me?

Thanks for asking! If you’re wondering when your landlord can keep your security deposit, these links may help you out. You could check out this article answering the question of how security deposits work. This article goes into depth about what a security deposit is used for. Or you could read this article about whether a landlord can charge you more than the security deposit.