What Can a Landlord Deduct From Your Deposit? A Primer for Current and Former Renters

Maybe you didn’t think twice when you put a big security deposit on that fancy apartment two summers ago. But now that you’re getting ready to move again, you might be wondering how much of that deposit you’ll actually get back.

Believe it or not, your deposit isn’t at the mercy of your landlord. Tenants have rights, and landlords have limitations on what they can deduct from your deposit.

In Florida, for example, “if the landlord fails to return the security deposit in a timely manner, or deducts for normal wear and tear, then the tenant can sue the landlord to get their deposit back and the landlord will have to pay the tenant’s attorney fee,” says Larry Tolchinsky, a real estate lawyer and partner at Sackrin & Tolchinsky in Hallandale Beach, FL.

But to avoid getting to that point, it’s important for tenants to understand the basics on deposits. In most states, the timely return of your deposit means there’s a deadline—such as 30 days—so be sure to leave a forwarding address.

When landlords deduct from your deposit, they will typically include an itemized statement explaining how the deposit was applied. In California, for example, if a landlord deducts any more than $126, they must provide receipts for their deductions.

Landlords can’t deduct from your deposit for any old reason; there has to be a legit circumstance. The rules may vary from city to city (or state to state), so read up on what your landlord can and can’t do in your area. But, in general, here are some things landlords can deduct from your deposit.

Nonpayment of rent

Unemployment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit many tenants hard, rendering them unable to pay rent. Some landlords and management companies have offered rent relief, but others have claimed that unpaid rent is unpaid rent. In this situation, landlords can collect unpaid rent—and late fees—from your deposit as necessary.

“Rent that is not paid is considered damages when a tenant vacates,” says Eric Drenckhahn, a real estate investor and property manager, who runs the blog NoNonsenseLandlord.com. “A tenant cannot use the damage deposit to pay their rent without the landlord’s approval, but a landlord can deduct it for nonpayment after a tenant has left.”

Unpaid utilities

Forgetting to pay your utility bill happens. But if you pay for things like trash and water through your property management company, be aware that your landlord could tap your security deposit to cover any bills you missed.

Tolchinsky says there is no black and white law on this, but it is possible. It all depends on the terms of your lease and local rules governing the jurisdiction that you reside in.

Abnormal cleaning costs

If you left the place trashed and filthy, expect your landlord to dig into your deposit. Landlords can deduct from your deposit for excessive dirtiness, beyond normal cleaning costs.

Drenckhahn says the place should be “broom clean,” or as clean as when you moved in.

“Dirt and grease left behind is not wear and tear,” says Drenckhahn. “Examples of excessive dirtiness includes removing stains from the carpet, replacing the carpet due to a cat using a closet for a litter box, or replacing door trim due to cat scratches.”

Doing a little cleaning before leaving isn’t a bad idea, but it doesn’t guarantee it’ll save your security deposit.

Tolchinksy says if a tenant hires a professional cleaner, rents a steam cleaner, or buys paint to paint the walls, he or she “should maintain all invoices and receipts” to provide proof to the landlord.

Damage to the property

Security deposit laws allow a landlord to deduct from a security deposit for any damage. This is different from normal wear and tear, such as faded paint or worn carpet that is naturally occurring and not due to the tenant. Examples of damage to the property include a broken bathroom vanity, cracked kitchen countertop, or broken doors.

Tolchinsky says it’s a good idea for a tenant to request a move-in and a move-out checklist and document by pictures and video the condition of the apartment.

Items left behind

Packing and moving everything you own is a huge undertaking. But regardless of how exhausted you are, don’t leave any items behind; it could be a costly mistake.

“Mattresses and box springs left behind are expensive to get rid of, and you will be charged accordingly,” says Drenckhahn. “It is not unusual to be charged $50 or more for each piece.”

If you do need to get rid of a bunch of large items, hire a junk hauling company, try to sell them online, or look into donating them to charity.

Breaking the lease

In some circumstances, breaking your lease is the only option. But breaking your lease early makes it less likely that you will reunite with your deposit.

A landlord can keep all, or part, of your deposit to cover costs if you break your lease early, per landlord-tenant state laws and what’s written in your lease contract. If you can, try to move when your lease is up.

“In my places, you are required to be out by 10 a.m. There is no late checkout, as I have tenants generally moving in the next day,” says Drenckhahn. “When you have the place clean, and even move out a few days early, it’s very easy to refund 100% of the damage deposit.”

Source: realtor.com

What Does a Real Estate Attorney Do?

If you’re planning to buy or sell a house or a rental investment property, you might consider hiring a real estate attorney.

A real estate lawyer can provide legal protection. They can help you navigate the home-buying process, which can be complex.

In fact, many states require a real estate lawyer to be present at closing. 

Even if you live in a state that doesn’t require you to have a real estate attorney, it’s important to have one by your side.

But it’s also important to know who you’re dealing with, what they can do for you, and what’s in it for them.

Real estate attorneys can help structure transactions and closing. They will review documents well in advance before the closing to make sure there are no errors.

Real estate lawyers, however, can only represent one of the parties. The buyer and the seller’s interests can often be in conflict. Therefore, the attorney should never represent both parties. 

Besides representing you in sales transactions, real estate attorneys can represent you in a courtroom as well.

During the home-buying process, disputes between the buyer and the seller may arise that will have to settle in court.

The real estate attorney’s qualifications

A real estate attorney, just as any lawyer, has attended 3 years of law school. In law school, they take courses in law in general, including real property and other real estate classes.

During law school, they may do internships at law firms which specialize in real estate law.

Once they graduate law school, they take to bar exam in the state they want to practice in.

Once they become licensed to practice, they can work in a law firm specializing in real estate law.

The real estate lawyer’s fees

A real estate attorney can charge by the hour or a fixed fee. How much their charge for their services depends on their reputation, their level experience, the level of complexity.

Regardless of the fee, your attorney will discuss it with you. Their hourly fee is typically between $150 to $350.

They’ll draft a retainer agreement and make the necessary disclosures before you can retain them.

The attorney’s role in real estate transaction

Real estate attorneys can have many roles. Their roles will vary depending on whether it is a simple transaction or a complex one, and whether a real estate broker is involved.

In some cases, a real estate broker can handle many aspects of real estate transactions. If that case, the real estate attorney’s role is often limited.

In other instances, the real estate lawyer plays a crucial role in all phases of the real estate transaction.

Nonetheless, a real estate attorney’s roles include acting as a legal counselor, negotiator, advisor and coordinator.

Real estate attorney as a legal counselor

A real estate attorney acting as a legal counselor can handle drafting the proposed contract. If there is a broker involved, the broker will prepare the contract.

But, your attorney will review it for any proposed changes. Your lawyer can also draft the deed and examine title documents.

If you retain a real estate agent or broker, your attorney may also review the broker’s agreement before you sign it.

Real estate attorney as a negotiator

If you hire a real estate lawyer before you sign a contract or before engaging in any contract negotiations, your attorney will assume that role. All communications from the other party or his or her attorney will be directed to your lawyer.

Your attorney will negotiate proposed changes to the contract, including the price of the house. They will review any mortgage contingency clauses.

In addition, your real estate attorney can negotiate the following matters:

  • Personal property to be included;
  • Repairs before closing;
  • The closing date;
  • You may not get a mortgage commitment within the stipulated date in the contract. So, your attorney may negotiate an extension of time to obtain the mortgage;
  • You may need an early possession of the house. Your lawyer can negotiate that.

Real estate attorney as an advisor

You, as a client, may not need strict legal advice. You may just want your lawyer to be present for general advice. If you’re a first time home buyer or an elderly buyer, your attorney can also act as an advisor.

Real estate attorney as a coordinator

Your attorney can also act as your coordinator. Residential closings involve a lot of steps. And not everyone involved will follow them.

So, one of your real estate lawyer’s role is to contact the brokers, the title insurers, the mortgagees. They will also monitor the progress of obtaining financing, title policy, etc.

They will also contact the other attorney to make sure all parties are ready for the closing.

Your attorney’s responsibilities before closing

If you hire a real estate lawyer to represent you either as a seller or buyer, his or her responsibility before closing include the following:

  • Make sure you, as a buyer or seller, can fulfill the requirements imposed by the real estate sale contract
  • Review the title insurance;
  • Check the mortgage commitment;
  • Monitor status of the contract contingencies;
  • Examine closing documents for accuracy;
  • Coordinate closing date and time with the mortgage lender, seller and buyer’s broker;
  • If buyers will not attend the closing, obtain power of attorney for property to cover documents to be signed at closing;
  • Get wire instructions for payment of balance due at closing

In case a dispute arises between the parties, the real estate attorney can represent you in court.

Issues that might arise include damages and earnest money forfeiture, specific performance, misrepresentation, etc.

Do I need a real estate attorney?

Some states require a real estate attorney to be present during closing. They include Massachusetts, Maine, Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New York, North Dakota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and New Jersey.

If you don’t live in any of these states and the District of Columbia, it’s really up to you if you want to hire a real estate attorney. If you’re just trying to save money and can barely afford to buy a house, you’re probably don’t need a real estate lawyer.

But if your real estate transaction is complex, a good real estate attorney can be an asset.

The bottom line…

Some states do not require you to have a real estate attorney during closing. However, it’s worth the cost hiring one especially if you’re buying a house in foreclosure.

Work With A Financial Advisor Near You

If you have questions beyond hiring a real estate attorney, you can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals. Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goalsget started now.

Source: growthrapidly.com