When Can a Landlord Keep a Security Deposit?
For tenants considering a move, the first thing many consider is, “am I entitled to get my security deposit back?”
Be upfront with renters about how you expect the flat or property to look when they move out, and the conditions that could potentially prevent the tenant from reclaiming their security deposit.
Having a list handy of the things you want cleaned or put to rights (repainting walls, steam-cleaning carpets, etc.) in the property before a tenant moves out can help prevent later disputes over the security deposit. Also, be clear that a failure to do these things can result in a loss of security deposit; this is proactive and in the best interest of all parties. Here are five common reasons why property owners withhold a security deposit:
1) Breaking the Lease Early
Check your lease carefully – most specify that moving out early entitles the landlord to part, or all of, the security deposit. In some cases landlords are even entitled to further compensation, depending on how much time remained in the lease.
2) Failure to Pay Rent
Again, consult your own lease and potentially a legal advisor, but a tenant’s failure to pay rent typically entitles the landlord to withhold the unpaid amount from the security deposit.
3) Property Damage
Here, we must make the distinction between normal wear and tear and actual damage. Be specific in communicating with your tenants what you consider wear and tear and what you consider damage, as these terms are very open to interpretation. These are a few general examples:
Wear and Tear: nail holes in walls from hanging pictures; rust stains or tarnish around drains or faucets; loose handles or hinges on doors, cupboards and cabinets; small amounts of mildew on shower tiles, shower door or shower curtain.
Property Damage: Holes in the walls (bigger than a nail hole); rips or tears in carpet or wallpaper; large and noticeable stains on carpet, curtains or furniture; broken doors or windows; failure, after repeated requests to do so, to return keys; missing or damaged smoke detectors or other appliances; damaged furniture; cigarette burns or smoke damage to property; items or furniture which has been removed from property.
4) Cleaning Costs
If your tenants haven't cleaned the property as specifically requested, or if their neglect is considerable (food left in refrigerator, or rubbish, clothes and other items left behind) and requires the landlord to bring in outside help, this is reasonable cause to keep as much of the security deposit as needed to cover these costs.
5) Money Owed for Utilities
If the rent didn't cover utilities, and your tenants paid for these services separately, it should be communicated to them that any unpaid bills will result in the loss of their security deposit.