While laws vary by jurisdiction and state, landlords are typically allowed to deduct costs related to damage or excessive dirtiness from a tenant's security deposit.

A security deposit, often known as a damage deposit, is an amount that tenants pay to the property owner before taking tenancy of the rental unit.

Landlords can keep that money to return the rental property to the condition it was in when the lessee moved in.

However, this sum should only be used to cover repair, painting, or cleaning costs if the damage or dirt goes beyond normal wear and tear. It isn't the landlord's money and should not be treated as an extra rent fee.

What Defines What Landlords Can Deduct from the Security Deposit?

Overall, two things define the deductions that landlords can take from security deposits: the state law and the lease terms.

  • State law: Each state has different tenant-landlord laws. Therefore, the allowed security deposit deduction may vary. Property owners must check local regulations before using this payment to avoid legal problems.
  • Lease terms: The lease agreement must also outline when a landlord can deduct from a tenant's security deposit. This document must be given to lessees, who should read it carefully before signing it.

However, it is important to understand that the law will always override the lease agreement if there are discrepancies.

Things a Landlord Can Deduct from Security Deposits

In most states, property owners can use the security deposit to cover costs related to cleaning, painting, or repairing the rental unit. This sum may also cover item removal and disposal expenses.

In addition, landlords may also deduct unpaid rent or utility bills from the security deposit in some cases.

To sum up, these are some examples of things a property owner can deduct from a lessee's security deposit:

  • Broken walls
  • Excessive holes in the walls, if the drywall is damaged by picture hangers or there's an obvious hole in the structure
  • A door off its hinges
  • Paint removal if it was put up by the tenant
  • Broken tiles or fixtures in the bathroom
  • Animals stains on carpets if the tenant had pets or there was a leaking fish tank
  • Broken doors or damaged locks
  • Broken refrigerator shelf
  • Water damage on walls if there were hanging plants
  • Sticky cabinets and interiors
  • Broken windows and window screens
  • A dryer that doesn't turn at all because it has been overloaded
  • A toilet that isn't flushing properly because it was stopped up with a diaper
  • Tears, burn marks, or holes in curtains and carpets
  • Broken appliances if they were damaged by negligence
  • Flea and pest infestation
  • Clogged drains by misuse
  • Significant mildew or mold growth in the bathroom
  • Excessive filth in or on the stove caused by burners
  • Filthy shower, bathtub, mirrors, toilet, or sink

What Landlords Cannot Deduct From The Security Deposit

Damage considered normal wear and tear cannot be deducted from the security deposit. It may include the following:

  • Dusting
  • Faded paint
  • Faded wallpaper due to sunlight
  • Rug wear by common use
  • Faded curtains
  • Worn gaskets on refrigerator doors
  • Broken light bulbs
  • Dirty curtains and blinds
  • Broken plumbing, if caused by normal use
  • Furniture marks on the carpet
  • Warped doors, if caused by moisture, age, or temperature
  • Dents on walls caused by door handles
  • Stains on porcelain fixtures
  • Broken appliances if the damage was not caused by misuse
  • Warped windows if the damage was caused by the flow of the glass
  • Batteries for smoke detectors that must be replaced
  • Picture or pin holes in the wall if the damage is not excessive
  • Dryers that aren't delivering cold air because their thermostats no longer work

How Can Landlords and Tenants Determine What Is Considered Wear and Tear?

As mentioned, most states allow landlords to deduct from the tenant's security deposit in order to turn the rental property back into the "move-in-ready" condition.

However, those deductions cannot be made for ordinary wear and tear, as renters aren't responsible for it.

Determining what is considered wear and tear or property damage depends on local regulations. Therefore, both parties are encouraged to understand the state's tenant-landlord law and rent controls.

Additionally, these examples can give landlords and tenants an idea of ​​what might be considered ordinary wear and tear and what might justify deductions from the security deposit.

What Can Tenants Do If the Full Security Deposit Isn't Returned?

If they pay rent in full, consider the rental property to be in good condition, and do not get the entire security deposit back, tenants can take legal action against landlords. These cases are usually handled by the small claims court.

Depending on the state, lessees can recover two or three times the deposit amount or more if the landlord withholds the payment improperly. Therefore, as a property owner, you must be careful when using this amount to cover the costs of repairs or cleaning services.

Also, as soon as the tenant moves out, you must deliver a written itemization, detailing all the deductions you take from the security deposit.

If possible, you should also rely on rental inspection reports to track property damage caused by the tenant.

Can Landlords Win a Case If Tenants Contest Security Deposit Deductions?

Landlords have the right to deduct unpaid utilities or rent payments, damages, and repairs as long as the remaining amount is returned to tenants and they can provide an itemized receipt explaining how the money was used.

If you meet these requirements and follow local laws, you probably won't face legal problems or can win if you have to defend your case in court.

However, you may have to collect and present evidence to prove that the deductions are legal. As mentioned, rental inspection reports ensure you have properly tracked tenant-caused damage.

Showing that the property is in poor condition when the tenant moves out can help if you can also prove that the damage was not there when they took tenancy on the unit.

The evidence you can use to defend a case may include photos, videos, and witness statements, for example.

In addition, in some cases, you can also go to court as a plaintiff if the security deposit is not enough to cover the repair costs and cleaning fees.

Final Thoughts

Most landlords require tenants to pay a security deposit. It's usually one to two months' rent. However, this money is not part of the rent. As a property owner, you can only use it when it's necessary and permitted under your state's laws.

If a landlord deducts from a tenant's security deposit but fails to explain how the money was used or withholds it improperly, they could face fines and other penalties,

Therefore, if you want your rental agreement to be successful, don't forget to check local laws and seek expert assistance if necessary.

Do you think you need more help? Doorloop can give you a hand! We have free forms that can make the rental process easier!

Additionally, you can find high-quality information on each state's rental laws on our website.

David is the co-founder & CMO of DoorLoop, a best-selling author, legal CLE speaker, and real estate investor. When he's not hanging with his three children, he's writing articles here!