Seeking Advice on Renter's Deposit

Updated on August 01, 2009
J.D. asks from Maplewood, NJ
19 answers

Hello. My husband and I moved to NY two years ago, and we signed a two year lease on a home in NY. We put down a deposit of 1 month's rent at the beginning of the lease term. I'm looking for some advice/stories when it comes to landlords returning the deposit. We rented once and I remember the landlord giving us the majority of the deposit back. But what is the "legal" requirements. I know our landlord is very picky (wish I could have met/spoken prior to signing the lease). Picky enough that we were basically forced to use her landscaper to keep up with the yard, and she has been in the yard and putting plants around at her will since we have have given our notice (will not renew, etc).

Our lease requires us to keep all appliances in working order (done), maintain gardening (we've been paying the landscaper for a year, and she is stopping by). It states "normal" wear and tear. It just makes me sick to my stomach thinking that she'll keep the deposit because her "standards" are different than ours.

If you have any advice please help.


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So What Happened?

So we have moved out of the house in the of the middle of August. We had until the end of Sept for our lease. Turns out our landlord has rented the property (a single family home), without notifying us, we paid our last month's rent, and she cashed the check for Sept 2009 (our lease stated we could not use the security deposit for the last month's rent). When I spoke to her this past Friday about shutting off the water at the end of the lease agreement, she did not mention the her new lease on the property, which we had not broken. I found out about the new occupants from a friend who was a neighbor. We have yet to see a check for the deposit, and now can't believe she has rented a property which is still legally ours (we paid our rent in the time due and have leased it until sept 2009.)

More Answers



answers from New York on

I hate to be doom and gloom, BUT... i'd talk to her about making the security deposit cover last month's rent.
I'd hum and haw about having cashflow issues with moving, and she can take a look at how well you've maintained the inside in order for her to make that decision.
Right there, that's when you'll know who you are dealing with. ..

You want to bring up this topic even if just to see how she handles the discussion. That can tell you a lot about their intentions.
You should get proactive NOW.. you have nothing to lose but your own money.

I'll tell you right now, there's a very good chance that if she can find a way to keep your money, she will.

In my 'rental' experiences.... sticklers have charged me $80 to replace the drip pans for all four burners on the stove... even though I cleaned them when I left and they were not new when I moved in...(ridiculous, isn't it?)
Also, even tiny stains on the carpet could justify carpet cleaning expenses....
She could easily flat out charge you for a cleaning service to come in after you leave. (nice landlords put that up front in the contract language)
Pictures do help if you were going to court. or they may have some leverage when you fight with her about the 'bill' that she drafts up to charge against your deposit.
I've only had one nice landlord offer to use my security as last month's rent.



answers from New York on

Hi go to and check out the landlord/tenancy issues. Find out your rights as a Tenant.

I own a home and I always give back the deposit. But... some don't and find ways to keep it. Holding your Rent is not a good choice because she can put an order for Court and try to dispossess you. Or even Evict you.

She sounds like a hard person to deal with. If it was me take my loses and move. Enjoy your move ok.



answers from New York on

Hi J., I believe your deposit should have been placed in a bank account. There is not much to speak of interest/ wise but it should be there for safety. I hope it all works out for you. Grandma Mary



answers from New York on

Not only should she return the deposit, she should return it with interest. Check with your state, there is a tenant's advisory board or something similar for you to contact for your rights. Good luck.



answers from New York on

Landlords are required by law to place all rental deposits into a bank account. By law during the lease he is not to withdraw money from this account. If there is NO damage to his property at the end and the place is left cleaned and the lease isn't being renewed, the landlord by law is to return the deposit to the renter along with the interest that money has made for the duration of the said lease.
Make sure you give your landlord at least 30 days notice that you are not renewing the lease but in fact will be this in writing.

It is your responsibility to return this properly in the same condition it was given to you at the signing of the lease. You are responsible for all that is external inside this house. Which means, Clean carpets or replace them because of damage you have done to them..the same goes for tiles, linoleum and wood floors. Spackle and sand off all holes properly that you have made in the walls,(((not required to paint)) fix all broken doors, and windows, replace all original light fixtures on the ceilings and walls or leave the ones you have installed to replace the original ones. Clean the sink, cabinets, stove, oven, fridge well and repair if broken. Clean the tub, sink and toilet bowl, cabinets in the bathrooms, make any repairs needed that are external. (((the landlord is responsible for internal pipes. Remove all your things from the house including the garbage before handing back the keys.

The gardener: You should have only been paying to maintain what was there when you moved in. Trimming of any bushes and plants and the mowing of the lawn. Adding or replacing trees, bushes or plants is your landlords responsibility. Hopefully you have this written in your contract with your landlord.

Most tenants don't pay their last months rent allowing the landlord to keep the deposit in it's place but legally you are still entitled to the interest that money had made while it was in the bank. However living off your deposit it's done with the agreement of the landlord.

If you leave a mess, or damage, the landlord is intitled to use your deposit to have the repairs made and to have the place cleaned.


answers from New York on

As long as the place hasnt been damaged, you should get your full deposit back. PLUS interest. Its the law that the landlord has to deposit your security deposit in the bank, and all interest belongs to the tenant.

A quick google search, and I found this website:




answers from New York on

Dear J.:

There are very specific Landlord - Tenant laws in regard to rental security deposits and they vary from state to state. I would suggest that you search out the specific laws in your state. You can probably find this information somewhere within the State's website or through your State's Real Estate Commission or local Real Estate County Boards.

Normal normal wear and tear, is just that. If you have caused damage to the property, then the Landlord has a right to expect it to be repaired and the property returned to them at the end of the lease term in the same condition as that in which you rented it. Usually the paint on the walls and the carpets/flooring are the most susceptible to wear and it might be worth your while to make sure these areas are addressed before you final inspection. It is usually required in a lease to leave the property "broom clean" condition. You might want to leave it with a freshly mopped floor as well, so it looks clean. Make sure your windows also shine.

You should read your Lease carefully, since this is the legal document that controls and dictates this transaction. Most of the time in residential property, it favors the Tenant.

I usually recommend that on any rentals, that my clients meet personally with the landlord or leasing agent and note any problems about the property and take some before pictures. It is also recommended that you take after pictures, since if there is a future problem that arises, at least you will have actual photos of the space which should also show a date and time stamp.

Since your landlord is so fussy, I would make sure that you called her in for an inspection just as you are ready to vacate the property. This way if she cites anything, you can work with her to fix those issues so that you don't lose your security deposit. Document all of your phone, email or in person conversations with her so that you have a paper trail that just in case a problem arises you can prove what you have done.

Don't worry, and work ahead to be prepared for your move. Make sure the movers also don't cause any damage. If you make the effort to contact your Landlord and discuss what she is expecting you might avoid any problem and save yourself a lot of anxiety.

I hope this helps. Good luck.

G. Perry Grinkevich
The Investor
Commercial Real Estate Services
New Jersey



answers from New York on

I know exactly how you feel, what you're talking about. My advice is #1 DEFINITELY to take pictures of the place just before you move out. That way if there is any dispute as to the condition you left it in you have the evidence. Then, the landlord has to give you an itemized list as to what any charges she may withhold from your deposit are for. Unfortunately any disputes regarding this matter usually do have to go to small claims court, so if she is charging for a damage that you dispute is even there, you can prove it with your own pics. I dont think she should be charging you for painting the apartment or cleaning the carpets, that is normal wear and tear after two years. Good luck!



answers from New York on

I've had landlords come inspect the apartment before I moved out to ensure that everything is acceptable. That way, if there is any difference in opinion, it can be resolved immediately, and there are no surprises later on. Going forward, you should always take photos of the place when you move IN, because you are certainly not obligated to leave a place better than it was when you moved it.



answers from New York on

Take picutures, lots of them. So that you have proof that the home is in good condition when you leave. If necessary, you can sue her for your deposit as long as the home is in good condition.



answers from New York on

Hi J.,
I'm not sure about interest on your security deposit. I was lucky about 1/2 of the time that I rented to get back my deposit. Some landlords can be real jerks, but I have gotten lucky with some.

I do know that if you leave the house as it was before you moved in, there is no need to hold any of your security.

Definitely take pictures after you move everything out. All of the walls, doors, cabinets, windows, floors - of every room. Especially any area of the house that you may have changed or fixed. (paint, carpets - shampooed or replaced, any furniture/fixtures - missing, broke, or replaced, windows) And take pictures of the yard, and have any receipts you have from your landscaper.

Normal wear and tear usually means showing signs of wear on carpet, stairs, and does not actually cover a whole lot of show with normal living. (scuff marks on uncarpeted floors, scratches on cabinets or doors, stickers or writing on walls) All of this can be painted and fixed easily.

Unfortunately, most of this stuff we do before we move out, to get our security deposit returned (with an argument), then the landlord will do it all over again - paint, replace carpets, stain or paint wood. I've seen it happen. I've also had it happen to me that I had the whole place clean, shampooed the carpets, scrubbed the windows/ walls/ bathroom/ kitchen & cabinets, replace carpet in 2 rooms, panelling on 3 walls, and a broken window - only to fight with the landlord that it wasn't as it was when I moved in (it was better), then to find out that the landlord remodeled the whole place. ugh!!! They replace all of the carpet, put in brand new windows, cabinets, walls, appliances - everything! and only got back 1/2 of my deposit!

good luck with this one. just try to keep open communication, hope she is reasonable and have your proof ready.



answers from New York on

I think the security deposit can only be withheld if damage is done to the property, or if it is left dirty. As long as it is clean and no damage is seen then you have a right to full security back. I also though that security deposits must be put into an interest bearing account. I could be wrong I am not sure. If there anyway you can use your security as your last months rent? Or does the lease state that is not possible. I think it has to be returned within 30 days after you leave the property. I would suggest you take pictures of the apartment when you leave so she can not say things were not left properly. This way if she does withhold security you will have visual proof should you have to fight her on it. Good luck and welcome to NJ!!



answers from New York on

Hi J.
Just like everyone has told you lots of pictures and video if possible also if you ask her and she says yes get it in writing thats were I failed.

Good Luck



answers from Utica on

My husband & I own rental property and can tell you the main things we look at after a tenant moves out: state of floors/carpets, general cleanliness, state of walls. i would suggest shampooing/steam cleaning the carpets if there are any, also if you have hung a lot of things on the wall which would require spackling/repair of the dry wall,she might dock some from your deposit from that. Obviously, any pet/animal damage would be your responsibility. Normal "freshening up", new paint if there is no actual damage should not be your responsibility. If you are worried about conflicting stories regarding the condition of the house, take pictures and/or a video as you are walking out the door. Good luck!



answers from New York on


For your sake, I hope you took pictures prior to moving into the apartment. I would also recommend photodocumenting every room and appliance prior to turning in your keys to make sure you have an "after" record for yourself. Of course, your LL does not need to know that you took these steps.

The other thing I would try to do is open a line of communication with the LL and ask her for a pre-exit walk through so that she can voice any concerns she may have and you can address them prior to leaving. Tell her that in you want to make sure that the apartment is left in a condition which is acceptable to her. Be honest with her and tell her that you are making this request to ensure a full refund of your deposit monies.

I only rented for a few years, the first my own studio than a house my husband and I rented for about 1.5 years. The studio I lost the deposit on it because they insisted I did not provide enough notice. They claimed they need 60 or 90 days instead of the standard 30. The second, the gentleman LL was a bit mental so we had to use our pre-move-in pictures to demonstrate that we were leaving the facility in better condition than we arrived. We also sent him a cover letter with every months rent check documenting the improvements we had made (from painting to new kitchen lighting) and how we had reduced the rent accordingly. We always provided the receipts as backup.

You always need to take steps to CYA. I think in this case the pre-exit walk through may be your best route.

Good Luck,



answers from New York on

Just keep the place looking nice when the landlord comes to inspect. Then you'll get your deposit back. If not, then ask why and try to fix the problem. Respect for the place your are renting goes a long way with a landlord.



answers from Jamestown on

I live in PA and the rules are that you are to give your landlord written 30 day notice (certified letter). The Landlord has 30 days after you have moved to return your deposit and include an itemized list of why your deposit is lower.

Most landlords will not do this or they will give you a far fetched list (i.e $526 for cleaning expenses after you moved out) thus trying to take you to court for more money.

I actually had a landlord change the locks on the doors 12 hours b4 my 30 days was up and then try to take me to court for cleaning expenses. He even had all the utilities shut off so I couldn't finish shampooing the carpets a day before I was officially out. He lost, but then so did I.

Then there have been places I moved from where I didn't ask for the deposit back due to damages from kids/pets.

Try going to a legal aid office and ask for the paperwork on landlord tenant laws. It's free.





answers from New York on

No matter what you do you may have a fight on your hands. Take pictures and possibly be prepared to go to court. Refer to the terms of the lease, for when the deposit is supposed to be returned. You may want to hire an attorney to represent you in court if it comes down to that. Even if she doesn't give you all of your security back, you can then take her to court with the pictures. You may even want to have a repair person come in and certify the appliances are in good working order and give you a statement stating the same prior to you moving. This way you have that document on your side too.

Try not to get too emotional about it but treat it like a business matter you must deal with.

Good luck getting your security back and welcome to Jersey.



answers from New York on

Read your lease, see if it says that your security will be returned in 30 days after vacancy, if it does not use your security to pay your last months rent. Definitely take pictures of everything, I mean everything like inside cabinets, behind refridgerators, inside closets ..places like that, landlords will find something. Don't forget the ceilings. I became a landlord about 2 yrs ago but I have rented all my life, so when the time came for me to be a landlord I considered everything to make a renters life more easy. I have the best tenants in the world and they have the best landlord. Suggest to your landlord that you would like to live out your security and see what she says if she says no than thats when you start covering your behind. Their is no reason for a landlord to keep the security unless you totally destroy there property. I wish you luck and let me know what happens with your security.

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