Start by sending your landlord a free demand letter.Write Demand Letter
How long a landlord has to return a security deposit after a tenant moves out varies by state. Below is a chart with deadlines in all 50 states and Washington D.C. for when a landlord has to return a security deposit. We have also included the state law that references security deposit deadlines so that you can fully understand your rights.
Deadline to Return Security Deposit
15 or 30 days*
* Check the law for additional information or exceptions.
Security Deposit Laws
In the chart above, we have included the laws that discuss security deposit deadlines for each state. The security deposit laws will also include information about:
What can be legally deducted from your security deposit.
Penalties your landlord will face if they don’t follow the right procedure for returning your security deposit. For example, in California, a landlord will have to pay 2x the amount of your security deposit if they keep your deposit in bad faith.
Whether your landlord had to provide an itemized statement and receipts to you regarding any deductions they made to your security deposit.
How much your landlord could charge for a security deposit.
Whether you had a right to a pre-move-out inspection.
3 Ways to Get Your Security Deposit Back
If you moved out of a rental unit and your landlord refuses to give you your security deposit back (in part or in full) you can take action against your landlord to recover your security deposit.
1. Send a Demand Letter
If your landlord is not complying with your state’s security deposit laws and refuses to return your security deposit, consider sending them a security deposit demand letter.
In a security deposit demand letter, the main thing you are doing is requesting that your landlord return your security deposit. Typically, this letter is written after your landlord has not paid you back within your state’s required time period. The security deposit demand letter should also notify your landlord that if they do not return your security deposit within the deadline you provide you intend to sue.
2. File a Complaint
Some states have consumer protection agencies that handle complaints against landlords who refuse to return a tenant’s security deposit. For example, in Florida, you may file a complaint against a landlord with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).
In other states, you may be able to file a complaint against your landlord for failure to return your security deposit with the Attorney General’s Office. For example, in New York, the Attorney General investigates rent security deposit complaints.
3. Sue in Small Claims Court
If filing a complaint and sending a demand letter don’t work, it may be time to consider suing your landlord for the security deposit in small claims court. Small claims courts handle a wide variety of disputes, including disputes between tenants and landlords over security deposits. Small claims courts were also designed to be the “People’s Court” so they are usually more affordable, convenient, and user-friendly as compared to regular courts. Consider filing a small claims lawsuit against your landlord if they refuse to return your security deposit or make improper deductions to your security deposit.
Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Claudia holds a J.D. degree and is a certified mediator in New York and Florida. She has participated in dozens of small claims mediations in New York City courts.