Beyond Normal Wear and Tear: When a Landlord Can Keep most of your Security Deposit

A former client of mine with two cats recently moved out of the apartment I found for her four years ago. She outgrew her large studio and wanted to upgrade to one-bedroom. Instead of receiving her security deposit back she was told by the landlord, to her surprise, that they were keeping $1,400.00 to repair the damage to the hardwood floors.

She moaned “Is this even legal?”

During the four years in her apartment with two cats her cats normally hid under a large heavy chair. In order to get them to come out she would pull the chair out of the way. This created deep scratches and discoloration on the hardwood floors and indeed is considered beyond normal wear and tear. The landlord is justified in this case for not returning the money needed to re-do the floor.

In some cases, if the security deposit is not high enough to cover the damage – the landlord may even take you to court.

As a renter you can ask the landlord to send you an itemized list explaining the whys of the amount they are deducting. However, this has to come from you – not every landlord is going to send you an itemized list.

If you dispute the amounts and want the landlord to send you receipts, there is no statute forcing him or her to do this. The only way to do this is to take the landlord to small claims court where the burden is then on the landlord to prove the disputed amount.

Please know however that taking a landlord to court may place you on the dreaded “Black List” (more on this additionally). Being on the Tenant Black List means no other landlord will rent an apartment to you. Always exercise caution when thinking about taking any landlord to court.

Normal wear and tear is known as “unavoidable deterioration” that is a result of living in an apartment. Some of these can be:

-Minor marks or nicks in wall.

-Worn gaskets on refrigerator doors.

- Warped cabinet doors that won’t close properly.

-Stains on old porcelain fixtures that have lost their protective coating.

-Toilet flushes inadequately because mineral deposits have clogged the jets.

-Moderately dirty mini blinds.

-Faded paint on walls.

What I usually advise people to do when moving into an apartment is to take photos of everything. Literally. Everything. Email them to your new landlord. Repeat when moving out. This way if the landlord wants to charge you for something you didn’t do – you have proof.

However, if your dog or your cat or you caused damage outside the areas of normal wear and tear, then don’t be surprised when the landlord keeps a portion of your security deposit.