What is a Security Deposit?
Landlords often require security deposits before they will rent to any tenant.
The security deposit is an amount of money the tenant must pay to the landlord before moving into the rental unit.
The landlord keeps this money until the lease is finished just to make sure that the tenant does not break the lease or destroy the rental unit. No part of the deposit can be referred to as "nonrefundable".
When you leave the apartment - either because your lease is up or you were evicted: if you leave the unit in good condition and are up-to-date on rent payments, your landlord must return the full amount of your security deposit.
If you have not made all rental payments, damaged the apartment, or left it dirty, your landlord does not have to return the full amount of your deposit. However, your landlord may keep only that part of the deposit needed to pay
for unpaid rent, repair damage caused by the tenant, or clean the mess left behind.
Landlord's Obligations with Regard to a Security Deposit
Within 30 days after the end of the lease and the time you move out of the unit (including returning keys to landlord), your landlord is required to do either of the following things:
1) Return the full security deposit to you
2) Return a portion of the security deposit to you with a written explanation of exactly what the unreturned money was used for. For example, the written explanation might state:
total of $50 withheld, $30 to clean spot on living room carpet, and $20 to fix broken door in bedroom.
Even if you receive the deposit and/or written explanation after this 30-day period has ended, it is not late, as long as your landlord mailed it within the 30-day period.
For example: Joe has a month-to-month lease. On January 1, he gives notice to his landlord Sue that he will move out. On
February 1, Joe moves out of the apartment and returns the keys to Sue.
The 30-day period for return of Joe's security deposit does not begin to run until February 2, and Sue must put Joe's deposit in the mail on or before March 3.
1) Give your landlord notice that you are leaving.
2) Give your landlord a forwarding address.
3) Clean the apartment and return the keys to your landlord.
Give notice to your landlord that you are leaving. To end your obligation to pay rent under a verbal or written lease, you must give your landlord notice of your intent to leave before you actually leave the apartment.
How many days in advance must I give notice? Read your lease to see if it tells you how far in advance you must give notice. If nothing is mentioned in the lease, the amount of notice you must give depends on how frequently you pay rent.
1) Month-to-month or year-to-year: 30 day notice
2) Week-to-week: One week
3) Day-to-day: One day
When Can My Landlord Legally Keep Part of My Security Deposit?
1) When left the apartment dirty or things were broken and need repair. Your landlord may subtract from your deposit the cost of any cleaning or repairs necessary to restore the apartment to the condition it was in when you moved in. Your landlord may not use your security deposit to fix "ordinary wear and tear". Unfortunately, it's not always easy to decide what is "ordinary wear and tear" from what is your responsibility to clean. Examples are listed in the following table:
Ordinary Wear and Tear Landlord Must Pay For
Damage or Excessive Dirt Tenant Must Pay For
* Curtains faded by sun
* Cigarette burns on curtains or carpets
* Water-stained linoleum by shower
||* Broken tiles in bathroom
|* Minor marks on or nicks in wall
||* Large marks or holes in wall
|* Dents in wall where door handle hits
||* Door off its hinges
|* Moderate dirt or spotting on carpet
||* Rips in carpet or stains from pets
|* Few small tack or nail holes in wall
||* Lots of holes/gouges in walls
|* Rug worn thin by normal use
||* Stains in rug caused by leaking fish tank
|* Faded paint on bedroom wall
||* Water damage on wall from hanging plants
|* Dark patch of ingrained soil on wood floor
||* Water stains on wood floor caused by windows left open during rain storm
2) When you left the apartment without paying all the rent due. Your landlord may deduct from your deposit the amount of any unpaid rent or unpaid utility charges you were responsible for under the lease. This unpaid rent claim usually happens in one of the following ways:
You have been behind on the rent for months, you give notice of your intent to leave and leave as planned. In this situation, your landlord can deduct what you owe for past months rent from your security deposit.
You give notice of your intent to leave and stay longer than you planned. In this situation, your landlord can deduct a portion of the next month's rent from your security deposit to pay for the additional days you stayed.
You lease your apartment on a month-to-month basis and leave as planned, yet you fail to give the right amount of notice of your intent to leave (30 days under Ohio law). In this situation, your landlord can deduct an additional month's rent from your security deposit.
What to Do If Your Landlord Does Not Refund Your Money Within the 30-Day Period and Does Not Send You a Written Explanation About Why This Money Was Not Returned?
Write your landlord a letter demanding:
(1) return of your deposit; or
(2) a written explanation as to why your deposit is not being returned and what it is being used to pay for.
Send the letter to your landlord by certified mail and request a return receipt. Keep a copy of the letter and the receipt showing the letter was delivered to your landlord.
If your landlord still does not return your deposit, call your landlord and remind him/her about returning your deposit and again give your new address.
If your landlord still does not respond, write a second letter, again demanding return of the full deposit and threatening to file a lawsuit in small claims court if you do not receive the money by a certain date.
If your landlord still does not return your deposit, you should file a lawsuit in small claims court.
What to Do if You Do Not Think Your Landlord Had Good Reason to Keep All or Part of Your Security Deposit
As soon as you receive the written explanation from your landlord, call or write your landlord and tell him/her why you think certain deductions should not have been made and ask for that money back. If this request was made by phone, be sure to follow up with a written letter. Send that letter to your landlord by certified mail and request a return receipt. Keep a copy of the letter and the receipt showing the letter was delivered to your landlord.
If your landlord does not respond to this request or refuses to refund any of your deposit, you should file a lawsuit in small claims court.
Filing a Lawsuit in Small Claims Court
1: Go to the Small Claims Division of the Municipal Court for the city where your landlord lives or the city where your apartment was located.
Bring the following things with you to the courthouse:
1) the full name, address, and telephone number of your landlord;
2) evidence to support your claim, including:
(a) a copy of your signed lease or rental agreement;
(b) any written guideline your landlord provided on damage repair or security deposits; and
(c) photos you have taken of the apartment;
3) the names and addresses of all of your witnesses who are familiar with the apartment, saw it before you moved in or just after you left and who will testify that you left the apartment in a satisfactory condition;
4) copies of all letters you sent to your landlord regarding return of your security deposit;
5) enough cash to pay the filing fee ($100).
Ask the person behind the counter (at the Clerk of Court) how you can file a Small Claims lawsuit, what is the filing fee, and how you can recover this fee (get this money back when and if you win the case). In most Small Claims Courts, the Clerk will have you fill out a form called a "Small Claims Information Sheet". Fill in the form completely (printing neatly), return the form to the Clerk of Court, and pay the filing fee. You are the "Plaintiff" and your landlord is the "Defendant". Under the heading "Complaint", write the following information:
1) that your landlord is wrongfully withholding your security deposit and you are requesting "double damages" under Ohio Landlord/Tenant Law (this means you are asking the court to order your landlord to return your security deposit and award statutory damages in the amount of your security deposit);
2) the date when you moved out of the apartment and gave the keys to your landlord;
3) the date when the security deposit should have been returned to you (30 days after you moved out and returned the keys);
4) that your landlord has not returned any of your deposit despite your demands that he/she do so, and how many days or weeks late your landlord is in returning your deposit
- OR -
that your landlord has returned a portion of your deposit (state how much) and refuses to return the remaining money despite demands that you have made;
5) the reasons why you think your deposit should be returned, including:
a) that your rent payments have all been paid in full;
that you cleaned the apartment and left it in satisfactory condition without damage or more than usual wear and tear (as clean, if not cleaner, than it was when you moved in); and
c) any other reasons you think you should mention.
The Court will set a hearing date (usually set five weeks after filing). Mark the date on your calendar. The Court will send your landlord a notice (summons) telling him/her that he/she is being sued by you and the date set for the hearing. Your landlord will have the chance to respond to your claims in writing.
Your Landlord's Potential Responses:
• He/she may not respond at all in writing.
• He/she may file an "answer" - denying some or all of the information you stated in your "complaint".
• He/she may file a "counterclaim" against you stating that you have not paid all your rent or should pay more money because your security deposit did not cover the cost of cleaning and/or repairs.
Check with the court at least one day before the hearing to make sure that the summons was served. If it was not served, the Court will change the date of the trial.
Prepare for the hearing by doing the following things:
1) Contact your witnesses to make sure that they can come to court on the date of the hearing.
2) Collect any evidence you have, such as photographs showing the condition of the apartment when you moved in or out and copies of letters you sent to your landlord.
3) Practice what you plan to say at the hearing. A good way to present your case is to tell the judge what happened in the order of when it actually happened. Pretend you are telling a story. You will only be given a few minutes to present your case, so keep it short and focus only on important things.
4) If you have the time, go to the courthouse a few days before the hearing and sit in on some court sessions. Get familiar with how things are done.
Attend the Hearing.
Bring the following items with you to court:
• photographs showing the condition of the apartment when you moved out;
• witnesses - people who can testify to your version of what happened and the condition of your apartment;
• copies of any letters you sent to your landlord; and
• a copy of the complaint you filed and the answer, if any, filed by your landlord.
On the day of your hearing, get to the courthouse early and check for your courtroom. Tell the Clerk or Bailiff that you are present and sit down and wait until your case is called. When your case is called, stand at the large table in front of the room and present your case as you have practiced earlier.
If you have photos, you can ask the Judge/Magistrate if you can show your photos as well. If you have witnesses, call them up to stand with you. Ask each witness to tell the court what they know about your case. The judge may interrupt you with questions. Answer these questions directly and politely.
After you present your case, your landlord will have an opportunity to tell his/her side of the story. Do not interrupt. Even if you think your landlord is lying or exaggerating, just remain calm. You will not look good to the judge if you appear openly angry.
After hearing from both you and your landlord, the judge/magistrate will decide who wins. The decision may come immediately or be mailed to you at a later date. If you win, you may ask the Clerk of Court how you may go about collecting your judgment. If you lose and feel that the judgment was incorrect, you can ask the Clerk of Court how to appeal or ask for reconsideration. Be sure to have the Clerk clearly state the actual steps, the costs, and the time limits.
To Avoid Problems in the Future
1) Make sure you get a written receipt for any deposit you pay.
2) Have your landlord walk around the apartment with you when you move in. Make a list describing the condition of things. Then when you move out, the two of you can go through the dwelling with this list again and note any changes.