When it comes to security deposits, there seems to be various opinions on what can and cannot be held when a tenant vacates a rental unit. However, the law is very clear on what is allowed. Generally speaking, “normal” wear and tear cannot be paid for out of a security deposit; excessive filth and damage can.

Know Your State’s Laws

The laws governing security deposits are fairly consistent throughout the United States. Of course, there are variations between jurisdictions, so please check your local laws and statutes before you proceed.

Most jurisdictions state that a landlord or property owner/manager can keep a portion or all of a security deposit in order to bring a rental unit back to the condition that it was in prior to the tenant taking over the property. This would lead one to believe that even normal wear and tear would be covered; however, it is not.

Even things like small holes in walls are considered normal wear and tear and cannot be used as a reason to keep any portion of a security deposit for repairs.

However, things like broken windows or tiles, holes in walls, and doors knocked off hinges are all reasons for repairs, and these damages are considered to be “excessive” in nature and are thus subject to withholding a security deposit.

Examples of Wear and Tear

Other examples of normal wear and tear include:

  • Dirty carpets. Carpets that are dirty are not subject to withholding a portion of a security deposit. Dirty carpets are considered normal. However, removing urine stains from a pet is not considered normal and the costs can be covered by the security deposit.
  • Faded drapes. Fading is a normal occurrence. Rips in drapes, however, are not considered normal and thus any repairs or replacements can be covered by a security deposit.
  • Water-stained tiles on a bathroom floor are normal wear and tear whereas broken tiles are not.

At the outset of any rental agreement, it behooves you to review the condition of your rental unit with your new tenant. Go over everything, using a checklist made especially for the purpose of getting a baseline condition on the rental unit. Note everything.

At the end of the rental agreement, do the same review. Any checkboxes that have changed in status (i.e., from “good” to worse) are subject to a withholding of a portion of the security deposit.

Make sure, however, that the items in question are not “normal wear and tear” items that fall outside the scope of a security deposit.

Use Reasonable Judgment

Be careful not to “nickel and dime” your vacating tenant. It is not necessarily their fault if carpets in the rental unit faded because you forget or neglected to put in drapes. Be reasonable and do not try to make the renovation of your property a burden on outgoing tenants. Certainly, do not try to earn a profit on the backs of your tenants.

The bottom line to whether you, as a landlord, can withhold some portion of a tenant’s security deposit, is that the items in question are not considered normal wear and tear. Excessive damage or filth qualifies. Check your local laws, as always, for more specific rules and laws governing security deposits.

For all of your tenant screening, background check, and credit check needs, turn to RentPrep.com.

About the author

I started RentPrep in 2007 and our mission is to pull the stress out of being a landlord.

We do this by helping you find the best tenant and providing educational resources along the way.

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