What Do I Need to Know About Security Deposits and How Do I Get Mine Back? (FAQs and Forms)
Authored By: Southeast Louisiana Legal Services
FAQs: What Do I Do to Get Back My Security Deposit?
What is a security deposit? +
A security deposit is money that you give your landlord when you move in. Your landlord can use the deposit to cover any unpaid rent, and the cost to repair damage above normal wear and tear after you move.
If there is no damage above normal wear or unpaid rent when you move out, your landlord should give your security deposit back to you.
You may not use your security deposit to cover your last month's rent unless your landlord agrees.
What can I be charged for a security deposit? +
There is no limit on how much your landlord can charge for a security deposit. However, it is typically one month’s rent.
If you are on Section 8 and pay a small portion of the total rent, your landlord can charge you a deposit equal to the full contract rent. For example, if the full rent for your unit is $800 but you only pay $200, your landlord can still charge you an $800 security deposit.
If you believe a landlord is trying to charge you a higher security deposit than other people because of your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or the number of children you have, the landlord may be illegally discriminating against you. If this happens to you, talk to an attorney or call the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center at (504) 596-2100.
Does my landlord have to pay interest on my security deposit? +
A security deposit is your money. However, your landlord does not have to pay interest unless you both agreed to this in your lease agreement.
Does my landlord have to return my security deposit? +
Yes, unless you owe rent or damaged your apartment above normal wear. Your landlord may deduct those costs from your deposit. He may also be able to keep your deposit if you did not give him proper notice before you moved out. You should check your lease to see how much notice is required before you move because some leases require more than 30 days. For example, if you give 30 days’ notice, but your lease requires 60 days’ notice, your landlord can charge you a month’s rent after you move out.
You can sue your landlord if you disagree with the amount of money he takes out of your deposit, or if the landlord will not return your deposit.
There are steps you can take to help protect your right to get back your deposit, talked about in other questions and answers on this page.
Can my landlord keep my deposit for any type of damage? +
No. Your landlord cannot keep your security deposit for "normal wear and tear." Examples of "normal wear and tear" are:
- a worn carpet;
- worn finish on wood floors;
- faded paint; or
- small holes in screens.
Your landlord also cannot keep your deposit for damage that was there when you moved in. The best way to protect yourself from being charged for damage you did not cause is to take time-stamped photos when you move in and time-stamped photos when you move out. That way you can prove that you did not cause the damage.
The landlord may deduct the cost of fixing damage to the property that is more than "normal wear and tear." Examples of things that are not normal wear and tear:
- broken windows;
- holes in the walls;
- extremely soiled or stained carpet that was not like that when you moved in;
- leaving trash that has to be thrown away;
- leaving your apartment dirty.
If your apartment is damaged by a storm, fire or vandal, tell your landlord right away. The landlord cannot charge you for repairs if you, your family or guests did not cause the damage.
What notice do I have to give if I am moving? +
You have to give your landlord the right notice that you are moving out to protect your right to get back your security deposit.
If you have a one-year lease you generally must give a 30-day written notice of your intent to move. Check your lease to see if it requires more notice.
If you have a month-to-month lease or no written lease, you must give the landlord a 10-day written notice of your intent to move before the end of the current rental month. If you have a written lease or other agreement, read it to see what kind of notice you must give before moving out. You must follow your lease if it requires more notice than the law. For example, many leases roll over month-to-month after the first year but require 30 days’ notice of your intent to move.
You may lose your right to your security deposit if you do not give the right notice. Your landlord may also try to charge you for time after you move. Other questions and answers on this page have more information about what kind of notice you have to give your landlord.
When does my landlord have to return my security deposit? +
The landlord gets 30 days after you move out to do one of two things: (1) return your deposit or (2) send you a letter telling you why the landlord is not giving back all or part of your deposit. So, within 30 days after moving out, the landlord should either give you your money back or you should have a statement from the landlord explaining why the landlord is keeping all or part of the money.
If the landlord sends a statement, this letter has to be "itemized." That means the landlord has to list the specific things covered by the money the landlord is keeping.
To help protect your right to get your deposit back, when you terminate (end) your lease you must give your landlord the right kind of notice that you are moving out. You must also give your landlord a forwarding address where the landlord can send you your deposit or an itemized statement saying why you are not getting some or all of the money back.
If I take my landlord to court can he sue me? +
Keep in mind that if you owe your landlord money, the landlord might bring a claim for the money you owe the landlord to counter your claim for the deposit. So, if you owe the landlord more money than the landlord owes you, suing the landlord may not be a good idea. On the other hand, if the landlord sues you, you may be able to counterclaim for the return of your deposit and for any other money the landlord owes you.
What happens to my deposit if my building is sold? +
If your building is sold during your lease, your landlord must give your security deposit to the new owner. When the lease ends, the new owner is responsible for the return of your deposit. If your landlord does not transfer your deposit to the new owner, the landlord may have to return your deposit to you.
What can I do to help protect my security deposit? +
Follow these tips and you will have a better chance of getting your security deposit back when you move out.
Before or when you move in:
- Get a payment receipt for your security deposit and keep it.
- When you move in, make a list of defects or things that are wrong with the apartment and get your landlord to sign it.
- Take time-stamped photos of the apartment when you move in.
When you are ready to move out:
- Give your landlord the right kind of advance notice in writing of your plan to move out. There is a sample "moving out" letter included with this resource. If you have a lease, read it to find out how you have to give notice before moving out. Keep a copy of the notice and proof of how you sent it for your records, including any proof of mailing.
- Return keys on time and to the right person.
- Make sure your rent is paid and up to date before you leave.
- Make sure your apartment is in good condition when you move out. Take time-stamped pictures of the apartment, and make notes about what is right and what is wrong with the apartment when you leave. Have a friend or relative look over the apartment just before you move out. He can be a witness in case you have to go to court to get your deposit back.
- Leave the apartment clean and throw out all trash.
After you move out:
Send a letter to your landlord asking for your deposit back. It is a good idea to send the letter by certified mail so you can prove it was sent. Make sure the letter to the landlord has a forwarding address where the landlord can send you your deposit or a statement. There is a sample demand letter included with this resource.
Keep a copy of the letter you send, plus proof of when and how you mailed it, for your records.
If 30 days go by and you have not received your deposit back, or you have only received part of your deposit back, you can sue your landlord for the balance. The easiest and least expensive way to sue your landlord is in Small Claims Court, where you do not need an attorney. To sue in small claims court your claim must be less than $5,000. If your claim is more than $5,000 you can sue in parish or city court, or in district court, but your costs will be higher and you may need an attorney
To sue your landlord in small claims court:
- Determine where to file suit. In most larger cities, small claims court is in city court. In more rural areas small claims cases are typically filed with Justices of the Peace. You can always call the district courthouse in your area and they can tell you where to file your small claims case.
- See if the court has forms you can fill out for your small claims case- most do.
- It can cost around $100 to file a small claims case. However, if you are low-income (your income is less than 125% of area median income) you can fill out an “in forma pauperis” application so you don’t have to pay the costs upfront. If you win, the court will make the other side pay the costs.
- After you file your suit, the constable will attempt to serve your landlord with the lawsuit. This means you need a good address for your landlord. It can be either his home or office. You can usually look up your landlord’s address in the public records or on the assessor’s website.
- After your landlord is served, he will have 10 days to file an answer or response to your lawsuit. Your landlord can also file a counterclaim against you.
- After that, the case will be set for trial. At trial, you and your landlord will go in front of the judge and present your evidence. You will have the opportunity to go first because you filed the case. You should show the judge the receipt for your deposit, and pictures or other evidence showing the condition of the apartment when you moved out. If your landlord says you owed rent, you may need to show rent receipts to prove you paid it.
- After both sides have presented their cases, the judge will make a ruling.
Sample Letter - Notice of Intent to Vacate Letter (Read the FAQ first)
[Your current mailing address]
[Landlord’s mailing address]
By Certified Mail [Recommended]
RE: Notice of Intent to Vacate and Not Renew Lease
Dear [Landlord’s name]:
This is my notice that I wish to terminate my tenancy at [Address]_______________________ at the end of my current lease term. I will vacate by [Date] ___________________.
Sample Letter -- Security Deposit Demand Letter (Read the FAQ First)
SAMPLE DEMAND LETTER
[Your current mailing address]
[Landlord’s mailing address]
By Certified Mail [Recommended]
RE: Request for Refund of Security Deposit
Dear [Landlord’s name]:
On [Date you moved] I moved out of the property I rented from you at [Address]. I left the apartment clean and in good condition minus normal wear. I am writing to ask that you refund my security deposit of [Amount of deposit].
Please send a certified check or money order made out to me to my new address:
[Your street address or PO Box]
If I do not receive my deposit or an itemized accounting of any deductions within 30 days of this letter, I may file suit in small claims court for my deposit plus a penalty of two times the amount wrongfully withheld under La. R.S. §§ 9:3251 and 9:3252. That means the total amount I will be asking for from the court is [Your deposit x 3]. I will also ask for costs and attorney’s fees if I am forced to go to court to get my deposit.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.