How do I get my security deposit back for my rental?

Recently on our legal forum a renter asked, “I moved out of my rental unit sixty days ago. My landlord has not sent my security deposit to me. I am wondering if he is legally allowed to do this? If not, then why in the world would he keep my money?” 

What is a security deposit?

A home is an expensive investment. Entrusting your home to other people, such as renters, can also be a risk. In order to eliminate some of the risk for the landlord, the landlord is allowed to charge the renter a security deposit. A security deposit is a set amount of money kept to pay for damage to the property or in case a tenant fails to follow the lease agreement.

State laws for security deposits in Texas

Unfortunately, disagreements about security deposits are common. You believe you left the rental unit in pristine condition while the landlord disagrees and decides to subtract funds to replace or repair their home.

First, it’s important to understand that state laws regarding security deposits vary. If you need specific information about Texas laws review Texas Property Code Section 92.101-109. After reviewing the laws of your state you also need to review your lease agreement.

Next, it’s important to note that the landlord must follow very specific steps if they intend to keep the deposit. The tenant is also required to follow specific steps to ensure they do not forfeit their deposit.

When can the landlord keep the security deposit in Texas?

Legally, in the State of Texas, there are specific reasons that a landlord can keep your security deposit. Before getting too worked up you need to review whether any of these reasons might exist. Specifically, a landlord might be able to keep your deposit for the following reasons:

  1. You breached the lease agreement.
  2. You caused damage to the property which is deemed not “normal wear and tear.” Actions which can be deemed not normal wear and tear can include deterioration as a result of negligence, an accident, carelessness, or abuse.
  3. You did not pay your last month’s rent but “lived out” the security deposit.
  4. You did not give sufficient notice, per the lease agreement, that you were leaving the unit.
  5. Your pet damaged the property.
  6. You signed the lease but never moved in.

Note: If the landlord deducts money to pay for repairs which are not deemed normal wear they must provide a detailed list of the damages and the cost of the repairs. Written evidence should be provided such as invoices, receipts, and estimates and should be sent to the tenant within 30 days of their move out date.

Steps to get your security deposit back from the landlord

If you have reviewed your lease agreement and state laws and still believe you are entitled to a return of your full security deposit, there are steps you can take.

  1. Prior to moving make sure to give sufficient move of the notice.
  2. Submit a forwarding address to your landlord.
  3. Review your walk through photos.
  4. Clean the house.
  5. Complete a walk through prior to your move out with your landlord.
  6. If there are issues that need to be fixed discuss with your landlord whether you can repair them yourself or have them repaired.
  7. Take pictures of the rental unit on the day you move out.
  8. Return the keys to the house and garage door opener to the landlord.

Waiting thirty days for your security deposit refund

Landlords generally have 30 days to return your security deposit. If it has not been thirty days then you need to wait. If it has been more than 30 days then you should have either received the security deposit or an itemized detailed list of the damages and the deductions (assuming you do not owe rent).

When do I take legal actions?

If it has been more than 30 days and you have not received any of the above, it’s time to contact your landlord. A quick conversation may be sufficient to solve the problem. If not, it’s time to write a demand letter asking for the return of your security deposit.

If you still have not heard from your landlord you may have the legal right to file a lawsuit in court to collect $100, three times the amount of the security deposit wrongly withheld, court costs, and attorney's fees.

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