Before you start pulling your hair out in frustration, make sure you've determined exactly what your rights are.
Security deposits are a frequent cause of disputes when a tenants vacates a rental property. While a landlord has a right to protect her property from damage caused by a tenant, the law restricts what a landlord can charge for damages; which deductions can be taken from the security deposit; and when the security deposit must be returned to the former tenant.
Start by looking at your lease.
The amount of your security deposit, its purpose, and the deadline by which it must be returned to you after you move out should all be specified in the lease agreement. If three weeks have gone by, and you are still waiting to receive a refund of your security deposit, It may be that the landlord had not violated either the lease or the law. For example, your lease may give the landlord 60 days in which to return your deposit or to provide a detailed explanation of why she is keeping all or some of it.
Next, ask the local housing authority about laws governing security deposits (or just look at the list below).
If the lease gives the landlord 60 days in which to act, but local law provides for 30 days, then local law prevails, and you inform the landlord of this in writing. You can either take a crack at this yourself, or you can outsource it to a third-party service such as Veeto.
If you're not sure whether to handle this DIY, to hire an attorney, or to use something like Veeto, you can either click here for a long-form comparison of those three options in general, or you can click the button below to book a brief micro-consultation call to discuss your lease case specifically.
Why do people use Veeto? Here's the short version: if you decide to use Veeto, we'll write and deliver the letter to your landlord for you--which saves you time and ensures that it's done right. 💪
Fun fact: about 25% of our clients are themselves attorneys. So if you've ever wondered who attorneys use to solve their own legal problems, you're looking at it.
For a quick preview of what the local laws might be in your area, here is a list of deadlines, state by state, summarizing how long a landlord has to itemize deductions and return a security deposit to a former tenant:
- Alabama - 60 days after termination of tenancy and delivery of possession.
- Alaska - 14 days if the tenant gives proper notice to terminate tenancy; 30 days if the tenant does not give proper notice or if landlord has deducted amounts needed to remedy damage caused by tenant's failure to maintain the property.
- Arizona - 14 days; tenant has the right to be present at final inspection.
- Arkansas - 60 days.
- California - 21 days.
- Colorado - One month, unless lease agreement specifies longer period of time (which may be no more than 60 days); 72 hours (not counting weekends or holidays) if a hazardous condition involving gas equipment requires tenant to vacate.
- Connecticut - 30 days, or within 15 days of receiving tenant's forwarding address, whichever is later.
- Delaware - 20 days.
- District of Columbia - 45 days.
- Florida - 15 to 60 days depending on whether tenant disputes deductions.
- Georgia - One month.
- Hawaii - 14 days.
- Idaho - 21 days, or up to 30 days if landlord and tenant agree.
- Illinois - For properties with five or more units, 30 to 45 days, depending on whether tenant disputes deductions or if statement and receipts are furnished.
- Indiana - 45 days.
- Iowa - 30 days.
- Kansas - 30 days.
- Kentucky - 30-60 days, depending on whether tenant disputes deductions.
- Louisiana - One month.
- Maine - 30 days (if written rental agreement) or 21 days (if tenancy at will).
- Maryland - 45 days.
- Massachusetts - 30 days.
- Michigan - 30 days.
- Minnesota - Three weeks after tenant leaves, and landlord receives mailing address; five days if tenant must leave due to building condemnation.
- Mississippi - 45 days.
- Missouri - 30 days.
- Montana - 30 days (10 days if no deductions).
- Nebraska - 14 days.
- Nevada - 30 days.
- New Hampshire - 30 days; for shared facilities, if the deposit is more than 30 days' rent, landlord must provide written agreement acknowledging receipt and specifying when deposit will be returned -- if no written agreement, 20 days after tenant vacates.
- New Jersey - 30 days; five days in case of fire, flood, condemnation, or evacuation.
- New Mexico - 30 days.
- New York - Reasonable time.
- North Carolina - 30 days; if landlord's claim against the deposit cannot be finalized within that time, landlord may send an interim accounting and a final accounting within 60 days of the tenancy's termination
- North Dakota - 30 days
- Ohio - 30 days
- Oklahoma - 45 days
- Oregon - 31 days
- Pennsylvania - 30 days
- Rhode Island - 20 days
- South Carolina - 30 days
- South Dakota - Two weeks, and must supply reasons if withholding any portion; 45 days for a written, itemized accounting, if tenant requests it
- Tennessee - No statutory deadline to return
- Texas - 30 days. Landlord need not refund deposit if lease requires tenant to give written notice of tenant's intention to surrender the premises.
- Utah - 30 days
- Vermont - 14 days; 60 days if the rental is seasonal and not intended as the tenant's primary residence
- Virginia - 45 days. Lease can provide for expedited processing and specify an administrative fee for such processing, which will apply only if tenant requests it with a separate written document. Landlord must give tenant written notice of tenant’s right to be present at a final inspection.
- Washington - 21 days
- West Virginia - 60 days from the date the tenancy has terminated, or within 45 days of the occupancy of a subsequent tenant, whichever is shorter. If the damage exceeds the amount of the security deposit and the landlord has to hire a contractor to fix it, the notice period is extended 15 days.
- Wisconsin - 21 days
- Wyoming - 30 days, when applying it to unpaid rent (or within 15 days of receiving tenant's forwarding address, whichever is later); additional 30 days allowed for deductions due to damage
As many questions as this state-by-state list answers, it also raises new questions and leaves them unanswered.
...and if you wish to enforce your rights, then you must know the answers to those new questions.
For example, some deadlines are given in days, other months, other weeks--three totally different units of time. How do you navigate the ambiguities such as figuring out the exact number of days in a month, or a week? Or even more enigmatic, how do you figure out New York's deadline of a "reasonable length of time?" The fact is that sometimes, even when you are reading your contract in plain English, or some other source of law, you might still have questions about how to interpret words in a way that gives you a precise understanding of your rights in a given situation.
The internet has made it much easier to find high-level information like what you've found in this article, and of course you've always had the option of paying an attorney $300/hour to chat and ask these questions, but there is a reason you don't do that: because you're smart, and you understand that paying that fee is probably not "worth it" given the stakes of your current lease case overall, or your specific question about your lease and when your landlord must return your security deposit.
Bottom line: if you determine that your landlord has failed to return your security deposit, or provide an accounting, by the required deadline, you need to issue your landlord a written demand immediately.
You can do this, or Veeto can do this for you. But it needs to be done.
Almost a decade ago, we realized that no legal service existed to meet that need between internet article and hiring an attorney.
Some people want to learn more so they can get better at handling issues DIY. Other people want to delegate the work to someone with experience, but not at the billable-hour rates that traditional law firms charge. So we finally built something to serve that niche, a software-driven legal service that takes the hassle out of managing your lease (and even terminating your lease early when necessary).
Veeto keeps it simple and therefore inexpensive. In a 10-minute micro-consultation, we can help you map out a playbook to solve either a particular of your case or the whole thing. Then you can either use that playbook as a DIYer or you can delegate full execution of that playbook to Veeto.
A lease is one of many purchase experiences that will dictate the quality of your life, for as long as you are paying for it.
What most people don't realize is that a purchase experience is fundamentally a legal thing, because when purchase something, you're supposed to get something in return. And although we have contracts and terms and deadlines, sellers don't always do it exactly the way they should. When sellers fail to do what they're supposed to do, that creates legal work for you, whether you know how to do that work or not. If you ignore it, the quality of your life goes down by the weight of your now poor purchase experiences.
So someone has to manage the quality of your purchase experiences. Whether you want that someone to be you, or prefer to delegate it a purchase experience assistant, Veeto can help.