It is common practice for landlords to require their tenants to pay a security deposit as part of their lease agreement. In theory, the security deposit is only meant to cover costs for cleaning and repair, and any unspent amount of the deposit should be returned at the end of the lease. However, some landlords will go to great lengths to make sure they can keep a tenant’s security deposit, including using these potentially illegal methods:
- Outright refusing to give back the security deposit
- The most blatant way some landlords will try to hold onto a security deposit is by simply refusing to give it back, for no reason at all. Some landlords will do this out of a mistaken belief that they are legitimately entitled to the deposit, but others will do it simply because they believe a tenant will not fight them on it. Usually, though, landlords will try to create some kind of justification for failing to give a tenant their money back.
- Charging for regular wear and tear
- Security deposits are meant to cover maintenance and repair costs for damage other than regular wear and tear. This does not necessarily stop a landlord from using a security deposit to cover these regular maintenance costs, which are a landlord’s legal responsibility to repair anyway. If a landlord takes money out of the deposit for the sake of these regular costs, that is a potential violation of landlord-tenant law and a cause for potential legal action.
- Overcharging for maintenance costs
- Even when there are legitimate maintenance costs, landlords will sometimes try to keep more of the security deposit by overcharging for them. Landlords are supposed to only deduct from the deposit according to what is considered a fair market value for the maintenance done, but they are sometimes willing to fudge the numbers to keep more of the deposit than they should. This allows them to get away with stealing the deposit while looking legitimate on paper.
- “Double-dipping” for repair bills
- Another way landlords will try to keep a security deposit is by charging twice for the same maintenance or repair services. Like with overcharging, this is meant to keep more money while still pretending everything is fine on paper. Assuming this is not a simple mistake, it can be a way of stealing a security deposit without a tenant even realizing it.
- Failing to account for security deposit deductions
- Finally, a landlord may try to pretend everything is fine when they try to keep your deposit, but try to avoid accounting for all deductions. As a tenant, you are entitled to see receipts for all deductions made from your deposit, so you can be made aware of wrongdoing. If your landlord starts acting suspiciously when you ask for receipts, it may be time to seek legal counsel for your security deposit.
If you have questions regarding your rights as a landlord or tenant, you should seek advice from an attorney experienced in handling these matters. A New York landlord-tenant lawyer, who is experienced in handling landlord-tenant cases of all sorts, can advise you of your legal rights and will fight for your best interests in court. If you are facing a dispute over unpaid rent, lease violations, or other similar issues, contact the Suffolk County landlord-tenant attorneys at McGuire, Peláez and Bennett at (631) 348-1702.