Security Deposits and Subletting

Security Deposits

A security deposit is an amount set down to cover any subsequent damages you might cause.

Security deposits end up being one of the greatest problems between a landlord and a tenant. Here are some things to know:

  1. The deposit is specifically to cover damages beyond normal wear and tear. It is supposed to be returned upon the termination of your lease if there are no damages.
  2. The deposit is not the last month's rent. Don't try to take out frustrations by not paying the last month and telling the landlord that you have already taken care of it with your security deposit.
  3. The deposit is usually equal to one month's rent, but may be higher if the landlord has recently experienced heavy damages. It may also be used as a means to discourage students from renting. It may not be more than two months' rent at the beginning of the first year.
  4. Use a checklist to catalog the condition of all the furniture and walls in your apartment. If there are things to be taken care of and the landlord promises to take care of them, get this in writing. It is a good idea for you to take photographs or a video of the apartment when you first move in for your files. You can then give the landlord a copy with your written request about any problems or damages. At the end of your lease, the original checklist should be used to assess any damages that have occurred. Be with your landlord when he/she checks out the rental unit
  5. If you have trouble with getting your money back, there is a law that protects renters. The Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951, amended in 1967 contains five parts that are pertinent.
      1. You MUST provide the landlord with a written notice of your forwarding address when you leave the property. If you do not do this the following does not necessarily apply.
      2. The landlord must return the deposit and/or an itemized list of damages to you within thirty days from the time you move out or the termination of your lease, whichever comes first.
      3. If he fails to offer either the damage list or the money within thirty days, he forfeits all rights to hold any amount of the deposit for any reason. You are entitled to sue for a full return of the deposit. It is incontestable.
      4. If he issues you an itemized list of damages within thirty days, but fails to return the remainder of the deposit, he is liable for double the remainder of the deposit. If, however, he fails to issue a list of damages or return the money, he is liable for double the amount of the deposit. (NOTE: He may file counterclaim charges for damages).
      5. There is no way that you, as a tenant, can be fooled into waiving this law by signing a lease.

Often students are asked to sign a 12-month lease even though they may only need their place for 9 months of the year. Subletting is a possibility for the 3 months the unit may be unoccupied.

Reread your lease and be sure you may legally sublet your apartment. Some landlords will reserve the right to O.K. any sub-leasees. Have them sign an identical lease to the one you have signed. Include your landlord's signature or get his written permission to sublet. Ask for a security deposit, have a damage checklist and establish payment plans in writing.

Helpful Hints
  • Make sure you have all your obligations in writing and then make sure that you meet these obligations. You are legally responsible.
  • Don't hold back rent in protest without making sure you aren't subject to eviction. You may take other actions if the landlord is not meeting the terms of the lease, but you are still obligated to meet your part of the obligation.
  • Save all canceled checks of rent and security payments. Put these in a safe place along with a copy of the lease. Sometimes it might be worth the four or five dollars to keep these papers in a safe deposit box.
  • In a situation involving a number of tenants, make sure that all people meet their financial obligations. Pay rent in one check to ensure that no one falls behind.
  • Be careful of prolonged guests. This could get you in trouble if they're discovered. If five people want to live together, have all five sign the lease.
  • Keep your place locked and don't pass out the key.
  • Find out how to hang pictures, etc. and what the landlord will permit. This can save you money when you move out.
  • Keep your place neat and clean. The neater and cleaner it is the more money you get back.