Most states impose strict rules on how landlords can collect and use deposits and how they must return them when the tenant moves out. If a landlord fails to comply with state security deposit law, the tenant should write the landlord a demand letter asking for the return of the deposit.
Find Your State’s Laws on Returning Security Deposits
Before writing the landlord a security deposit demand letter, research your state security deposit laws, including:
- allowable security deposit deductions, such as for unpaid rent or damage to the rental unit (above ordinary wear and tear)
- how much time the landlord has to return your deposit (generally it’s between 14 and 30 days)
- whether the landlord must pay interest on the deposit
- what type of written itemized statement the landlord must provide as to how the deposit has been applied toward back rent and costs of cleaning and damage repair
- whether the landlord must allow you to respond to proposed deductions before the landlord actually makes them, and
- any other deposit rules, such as requirements that tenants make a written demand for a security deposit’s return, or risk losing the deposit altogether.
Contact the Landlord Before Sending a Demand Letter
Check to make sure that the landlord has your forwarding address and that there are no other reasons why you have not yet received your deposit back. (This is an important step: in some states, failure to supply a forwarding address relieves the landlord of having to return the deposit.) Verify the landlord’s mailing address (or that of the manager or management company, whomever is relevant), in case you need to send a demand letter.
Make sure you understand your Lease or Rental Contract.
Prepare a Written Security Deposit Demand Letter
Identify yourself in your demand letter, the address of your rental unit, how long you lived there, the date you moved out, and anything else relevant, such as the facts that you gave the proper amount of notice, were paid up in rent, and left the rental in good condition. Include the following information:
- the amount of the deposit
- the date by which you should have received your deposit under your state law, and/or the terms of your lease or rental agreement
- your specific request (demand) for the return of the deposit, and
- what you plan to do (such as sue the landlord in small claims court) if the landlord does not comply within a specific period of time, such as one week.
Send the Security Deposit Demand Letter
Use certified mail or a delivery service that will give you a receipt establishing delivery. Keep a copy of your letter and the delivery receipt. You’ll need these if you end up in small claims court.
Learn more about How to Handle Landlord and Tenant Disputes.