They say one of the biggest points of contention in a relationship is money. That’s especially true when the relationship is between a landlord and a tenant, and one major pain point is the security deposit.

Trying to save money for a deposit, rent and moving costs can be prohibitive for tenants, but it’s absolutely necessary for landlords to require a security deposit. In most states, security deposit laws exist to assist landlords in recouping potential damages to rental units.

However, keep in mind that security deposits are still the tenant’s funds and should only be used for cleaning and damages due to that particular tenant’s use of the rental unit. Security deposits aren’t meant for normal wear and tear or for a landlord to significantly improve the rental unit.

Here are five other things you need to know about security deposits:

1. The limit on a security deposit amounts vary from state to state.

In states where there is no law mandating it, however, landlords typically still try to keep their security deposit rates competitive. It’s not uncommon to pay the first month’s rent and a security deposit up to that same amount. However, if you feel like a landlord is asking for way too much, it’s not a bad idea to look at a few rentals in the same area to compare.

2. Tenants must get a detailed notice and/or a refund within 30 days.

In almost all states, renters should receive their deposit or a written explanation of why they won’t be getting their deposit back within a certain time frame. A landlord is only required to send the security deposit or the written explanation for the deductions from the security deposit to the last known address of the tenant. So, it is the obligation of the tenant to make sure the landlord knows the tenant’s forwarding address or for the tenant to ensure their mail is properly forwarded.

If a landlord fails to send back a deposit or an itemized list of deductions, what’s the next step?

According to Kirk Cullimore Jr., a Utah-based attorney who specializes in landlord representation, if that happens, all is not lost for the tenant. It then becomes the renter’s obligation, however, to follow-up and serve a written notice to the landlord requesting the written invoice of any deductions from the security deposit and/or the refund of the security deposit. The notice served by the tenant to the landlord should also include the forwarding address of the tenant.

So landlords, make sure to do a final walkthrough and mail that check. Tenants, give your new address to your landlord ASAP to make sure you get your deposit back. Nice job, everybody.

3. A landlord should provide a move-in checklist.

A move-in checklist is something you can’t skip. In fact, according to some state laws, landlords must give new tenants a copy of the lease, a form to document the condition of the rental (plus time to fill it out) and a written inventory of the previous damage in the unit. This checklist is critical for a tenant when disputing potential charges at the end of the lease. The checklist is also important for a landlord to demonstrate that certain charges are appropriate because the condition of the unit was acceptable at move-in.

4. If a deposit is non-refundable, a landlord must disclose it.

It’s totally reasonable to ask for a non-refundable deposit for cleaning costs (or other fixed costs), but landlords have to let tenants know ahead of time. Makes sense, right? Since tenants are required to sign a document stating that they know about any non-refundable deposits, we suggest including any information about the amount of a deposit that is non-refundable right in the lease. That way, both landlords and tenants have a copy.

5. A tenant can sue if their deposit isn’t handled properly.

While a lawsuit or dispute with a tenant is the worst case scenario, there are some situations where it might happen. A tenant has the right to get their deposit back on time, to have a written list of the damage and to get their deposit back if the funds are being withheld wrongfully. Cullimore notes that a landlord’s failure to timely return the deposit or provide a written notice of deductions and failure to respond to the tenant’s proper request for such can result in penalties, a full refund of the deposit and other court costs or attorney fees. Check your state laws to see the specific laws regarding lawsuits.

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