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What costs can a landlord deduct from the tenant’s security deposit?

Most tenants will need to put down a security deposit before renting a residential property.  The security deposit is typically close to the amount of one month’s rent, and it is intended to cover damages inflicted by the tenant to the property that go beyond normal wear and tear.  Much controversy exists as to when landlords can keep a portion of the tenant’s security deposit.  One of the most common disputes between landlords and tenants is the return of the security deposit.  Our Long Island real estate lawyers discuss New York law regarding security deposits and what you should do if a disagreement arises between the landlord and the tenant.

How much can a landlord charge for the security deposit?

New York law does not impose a limit on the amount of security a landlord can request from tenants.  However, city and county laws, particularly if the housing is rent controlled, could have caps in place.  Landlords and tenants should check local laws to ensure they are charging an appropriate amount for security.  Absent laws, a landlord should set the security deposit amount so that they will have sufficient funds to cover potential damages, and not so high that prospective tenants will reject the unit.

When must the landlord return the security deposit?

Under New York law, the landlord needs to return the tenant’s security deposit within a reasonable amount of time once the landlord has taken control of the property.  Reasonable will depend on the court, but could include anywhere from 21 to 45 days.

What damages can the landlord deduct from the deposit?

A landlord is legally permitted to deduct from the security deposit for damages and excessive filth.  The landlord cannot charge a tenant for reasonable wear and tear.  Damages could include:

  • Tears in the carpet
  • Broken windows
  • Broken tiles
  • Excessive holes in the walls
  • Animal stains
  • Broken locks or doors
  • Appliances broken due to negligence
  • Excessive filth in the bathrooms
  • Broken or missing blinds

Items that cannot ordinarily be deducted include normal rug or carpet wear, dirty blinds, faded paint, dust, and warped windows due to age or moisture.

Landlords seeking to withhold a portion of the security deposit should provide a written explanation detailing the damage.  If the tenant does not agree with the withholding, he or she can seek redress in small claims court.