Depending on your landlord, the act of handing over a security deposit can feel like an investment in the future or like lighting your money on fire. An honest landlord should only use the security deposit to fix damage inflicted by the tenant, but far too often, landlords consider it to be a free extra month’s rent and will keep it and make up problems to justify it. Unfortunately, there are many landlords who fit the latter description, and far too few tenants who are able to do anything about that. We’re here to fill you in on some of what you might have missed.
In Pennsylvania, landlords can only keep two month’s rent for a security deposit for the first year of a lease. That means two month’s worth of rent for something beyond rent. If your landlord asks for more- even if they call it something else- they’re running And if you stay beyond a year? Your landlord is actually required to give you one month back once your original lease term reaches one year from signing.
So, how about getting that deposit back? The best way to ensure that you get your money returned is to treat your place immaculately, but when that isn’t possible (or things just happen), there are a few ways it can proceed.
When your lease expires and you move out, you must provide- in writing- an address to which your landlord can forward your security deposit (or what’s left of it.) Your landlord then has thirty days to make a decision on whether they’re going to return your deposit in full, return your deposit in part, or keep it in its entirety. They must reply to you with the result of their decision in writing within that thirty day period.
If they don’t, you have a few options therein. You can go back to your landlord and ask to receive your decision directly before going to court. You can sue your landlord in municipal court for up to twice the amount of the security deposit. Your landlord cannot, however, sue you; by waiting beyond the thirty day period, they lose their right to sue you for damages or seek monetary reimbursement beyond the security deposit.
In Pennsylvania, your landlord can deduct money from your security deposit for three reasons; damage to the property, unpaid rent, or the breaching of the lease. Unpaid rent and breaching the terms of the lease are relatively straightforward, but one of the most common security deposit-related disputes is exactly what qualifies as damages. In short? Any problems caused by intent or negligence; wear-and-tear issues like scratches and dings don’t qualify. Your landlord also needs to provide you with an itemized list of damages as well as repairs. If you and your landlord don’t agree on what counts as damage, it’s best to try and talk it out.