What Can a Landlord Deduct From My Security Deposit?

Most landlords will require a sizable security deposit to make sure that they protect themselves from loss.

After all, there are a lot of bad tenants out there, so it’s understandable that they want to have some money set aside to cover damages or even unpaid rent.

But if you’re a good tenant and want to make sure you get your entire security deposit back (or at least most of it), you are probably curious as to what expenses a landlord may deduct from your security deposit.

In this article, I am going to answer that question and provide you some tips on how to maximize the return of your security deposit.

If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:

Customary expenses deducted from a security deposit include unpaid rent, costs to repair damages, cleaning fees and, in some cases, miscellaneous expenses, such as late fees, lawyer fees and court costs .

Ok, we’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get into it.

The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only.  It is not legal advice.  You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.

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What Can a Landlord Deduct From My Security Deposit?

The security deposit is not your landlord’s slush fund and they are obligated to return it to you in full (and with interest in some cases) unless there is a legal or contractual reason to reduce it.

So the first thing you should do is read your lease to determine what category of expenses may be assessed against your security deposit. Many leases devote an entire section to the security deposit and since your lease is the primary document that governs your rental arrangement, it’s a good idea to read it carefully.

You should also check your state and local rules and regulations, since many will address the issues of security deposits under their landlord-tenant laws.

Now each state will likely have different laws governing security deposits, but there are certain categories of expenses that are allowed to be deducted from the security deposit in almost all jurisdictions. We’ll cover the most common ones.

Related Reading:

For your convenience, here’s our 50 state reference table (including D.C.) that will link you to the official landlord tenant laws of your state.

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Property Damage

Essentially, you must leave the property in the same condition it was in before you moved in, except for reasonable wear and tear (more on that later). If you break something or damage something in the home, a landlord is entitled to recover the costs for fixing it.

Here are some examples of damages that’ll make your landlord take money from your security deposit:

  • Broken walls
  • Broken tiles
  • Broken windows
  • Broken doors
  • Damaged cabinets and countertops
  • Significant damage to carpets or curtains
  • Broken appliances (due to the fault of the tenant)

However, the landlord can’t charge you for reasonable wear-and-tear on the property. Examples of that are:

  • Faded paint
  • Faded curtains
  • Dirty curtains
  • Furniture marks on the carpets
  • Natural carpets wear

Obviously, if you want to avoid these type of charges, take good care of the rental. Don’t abuse or be reckless with the property and things should function pretty well. If something breaks and it’s not your fault (it happens), notify your landlord as soon as possible (not at the end of your lease), so there is no dispute later on as to who caused the damage.

Most landlords will have a move-in inspection to assess the condition of the property when it was given to you. Make sure that you are there and highlight any existing damage and make sure it is noted in writing in the move-in inspection.

You don’t want to be responsible for paying the cost to fix something that was broken when you got there.

Messy Condition

As stated above, the apartment must generally be left in the same condition it was in when you first moved in. That means that the apartment must be clean, assuming it was clean when you moved in.

Otherwise, money could be deducted from the deposit to cover the cleaning fees of the apartment.  Landlords will often focus on high traffics areas and high use areas. These include carpets, kitchens (fridges and ovens, especially), and bathrooms (especially toilets and tubs).

Additionally, if the rental was vacant, you should return it vacant. If there are lingering items, your landlord may charge your for their removal.

If you want to keep things simple, you can hire a cleaning service (it may make sense to ask your landlord for a recommendation, so they can’t complain later on if they didn’t do a good job).

Of course, you can clean the apartment yourself before moving out, but some landlord’s may insist on professional cleaning.

Unpaid Rent

If you have unpaid rent (including late fees), your landlord will have the right to deduct it from your security deposit.

Additionally, the landlord can take the utility costs out of your deposit if you don’t cover all the utility bills before leaving the apartment. Of course, that’s only if your landlord is the one to collect utility payments from the tenants.

Tips to Prevent Reduction From My Security Deposit

Just being a decent and responsible tenant will likely be enough to prevent any reduction in the security deposit. Use common sense and treat the property like your own. That means not damaging the property through your misuse and paying your rent on time.

However, a little extra care and some smart preventative steps can stack the odds in your favor and help you get all or most of your security deposit back.

Do a Walk-Through

When receiving the apartment and when returning it, you should do a walk-through with the landlord. Most landlords will insist on this anyway and it may even be in your lease.

This can give you a chance to discuss anything that might be wrong with the apartment before receiving or returning.

Document Everything

Upon receiving the property, take pictures of every room with every item in it. Do the same before moving out of the apartment.

This can provide visual proof of the condition of the apartment with everything in it and prevent any wrong accusations.

Always Maintain the Apartment

Always keep your apartment in good condition. Clean it regularly and fix any problem that comes up. Prevent the accumulation of mold by venting your bathroom properly, check for pests, and generally be on the lookout for problems before they become major.

You’ll find that this is better than making all the needed fixes in a short time before vacating the apartment.


So there you have it – an answer to the question on what your landlord may deduct from your security deposit, along with some helpful tips to ensure you get your money back when you vacate. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!