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Landlords in most states are given a time frame by which they must return a tenant’s security deposit. Additionally, under these security deposit laws, landlords are generally also required to account for any deductions they make from a tenant’s security deposit. If your landlord is not complying with your state’s security deposit laws consider sending them a security deposit demand letter.
State-by-State Chart of Security Deposit Deadlines
Deadline to Return Security Deposit
15 or 30 days*
* Check the law for additional information or exceptions.
What is a Security Deposit Demand Letter?
In a security deposit demand letter, you (the tenant) are requesting your landlord to 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 them in small claims court. Here are the two most common reasons to send a security deposit demand letter:
You moved out of your rental unit and your landlord refuses to return your security deposit.
You moved out of your rental unit and your landlord returns your security deposit but has deducted money from the security without explaining why or providing an itemized checklist per your state’s security deposit laws.
Why is a Security Deposit Demand Letter Important?
If your landlord has not returned your security deposit or is ignoring your calls and messages a well-crafted demand letter can be a useful tool to get your landlord to satisfy their legal obligation to return your security deposit.
Here are additional reasons to first send a demand letter before suing your landlord in court for your security deposit:
Depending on the state you are filing a lawsuit in, you may be required to demand payment from your landlord before filing. For example, in California, small claims court demanding payment is a requirement. By sending a demand letter you are fulfilling this requirement.
By sending a security deposit demand letter you are signaling to your landlord that you are serious about getting your security deposit back and willing to take legal action.
Sending a written security deposit demand letter assures you there is a record of your attempt to get your security deposit back. So while you may request your security deposit back orally, we recommend making the request in writing. There is also no restriction on text messages, but writing a letter can sometimes be very effective as it is a more formal way of making a demand to your landlord.
The most important reason to send a demand letter is that it could lead to you getting your security deposit back in full!
Key Elements to Include in Your Security Deposit Demand Letter
There are no set requirements for what needs to be included in a security deposit demand letter. However, below are some key elements you should make sure to include so your demand letter is as effective as possible.
Your landlord’s name and address.
The address of your rental unit and the dates you rented from.
A statement of what happened between you and your landlord and why you are requesting your security deposit back.
How much you paid for your security deposit and how much is owed to you.
Your state’s security deposit laws.
The penalties under your state’s security deposit laws for not returning the deposit.
The date by which your landlord should've returned the deposit or provided a list or accounting of deductions.
Your contact information and forwarding address.
A deadline by which your landlord should return your security deposit.
Step-by-Step How to Write a Security Deposit Demand Letter
Step 1. Research Your State’s Security Deposit Laws
You are entitled to your security deposit within a set time frame and before you can request your security deposit back you need to make sure that the deadline has passed.
Our state-by-state chart includes all 50 state security deposit deadlines (including Washington D.C.).
Consult with an attorney if you have further questions about your specific situation.
Step 2. Write Out a Header
Include your contact information. This means your name and forwarding address.
Date. The date you are sending the letter.
Include information on how the letter is being sent. For example, if you sent your security deposit demand letter by certified mail add a line that states this at the top of the letter.
Include your landlord’s name and address.
Step 2. Statement of What Happened
Include a concise statement of how much money you are owed and the letter's intent. At the beginning of your letter, include a statement stating how much your landlord owes you from your security deposit.
Also, add a statement stating that this demand letter serves as notice of your intention to take legal action against your landlord if your security deposit money is not returned.
Step 3. Body of the Letter
Include the most important facts. This means the address of the rental unit, how long your lease lasted, when you moved out, if you reached out to your landlord to let them know the security deposit was late, how late the security deposit was, etc.
Include the security deposit law in your state and any penalties your landlord may be liable for. For example, in some states, if a landlord withholds a security deposit in “bad faith” the tenant can request additional punitive damages (i.e. additional money).
Include the settlement demand. Make sure to explain to your landlord that you are open to settling the case if your security deposit is returned.
Include how you would like to receive payment and by when. Make sure you have included a deadline by which you expect your security deposit back.
Step 4. Conclusion and Signature
Include a deadline. You may want to consider giving your landlord 14 days to respond to the security deposit.
Include a signature. The document should end with the respectful “Sincerely” and your name along with your signature.
Sample Security Deposit Demand Letter
Below is a sample security deposit demand letter, in which a tenant requests that their landlord return their security deposit. When using this blank template insert the relevant information of your dispute in:
Via USPS Certified Mail
Re: Failure to Return Security Deposit
Dear [Landlord’s Name]:
I am writing to request that you return my security deposit in the amount of [insert amount owed]. I am attempting to resolve this out of court, but if we cannot come to an agreement, I intend to sue.
Here is a statement of my case that I intend to submit to the court:
I moved out of my rental unit located at [address of rental unit] on [date you moved out]. I gave a [amount paid as a security deposit] security deposit when I moved into the apartment which I was entitled to receive at the end of my lease period. It is now [date], and I have not received my security deposit back from [landlord’s name]. [Your state’s security deposit law] provides that a landlord has [time frame by when your security deposit needs to be returned] to return a tenant’s security deposit. I am now demanding [amount owed] as per [your state’s security deposit law].
I look forward to resolving this matter amicably and I am amenable to discussing mediation. You may contact me at [your email] if you would like to discuss this matter further. Please send me a check payable to my name to the forwarding address listed above.
If I do not hear from you by [14 days from now], you leave me no alternative but to file a lawsuit against you. In the event of a lawsuit, I intend to seek redress to the fullest extent permitted by law including, but not limited to, additional damages, legal services costs, court costs, and accrued interest.
[print your name]
How to Send a Security Deposit Demand Letter
We recommend sending your security deposit demand letter via email or mail. For letters that you mail, consider the following:
Tracking. Make sure to track your security deposit demand letter. With tracking, you will know if the letter reached your landlord or not.
Signature Required. You do not necessarily need a signature request. When you send a letter with a signature request, the postal carrier must hand-deliver the letter and your landlord must sign the letter.
What To Do if Your Security Deposit Demand Letter Didn’t Work?
If you sent a security deposit demand letter to your landlord and have yet to receive your security deposit it may be time to consider suing your landlord in small claims court. Small claims courts handle a variety of cases involving landlords, like security deposit cases, at a low cost. Small claims courts are considered the “People’s Court” because of how affordable and user-friendly they are. In some small claims courts, attorneys are not even allowed to represent you! Consider filing a small claims lawsuit against your landlord if they refuse to return your security deposit.
Legal Educator @ People Clerk. Claudia is a lawyer and certified mediator in New York and Florida. She has participated in dozens of small claims mediations in New York City courts