How Landlords Can Navigate Security Deposit Disputes

At Drucker & Mattia, PLLC, we handle a wide range of landlord-tenant disputes and have had the opportunity to represent both sides. Today, we will discuss security deposit disputes through the lens of the landlord, but the information we provide is also helpful to tenants. For example, what does a landlord have to give a tenant if they intend to keep the security deposit? The landlord must give the tenant an itemized statement, and the deposit must be returned to the tenant within 14 days of them leaving the property. As a tenant, you now know what to expect, and as a landlord, you understand what you have to deliver. 


Preventing Disputes is Critical 

As a landlord, put yourself in the mind of a tenant. The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in New York City is slightly below $4000. This is important because landlords cannot ask for more than one month’s rent as a security deposit. That said, $4000 is a significant amount of money, especially for someone just starting their career. Your tenant may be relying on this money being returned to them. Imagine how strongly they may feel when they discover it isn’t. 


Prevent a dispute by eliminating the element of surprise. In other words, follow a specific process to outline your expectations before the tenant moves out. As a landlord, we assume you would rather have your tenant respect your property by leaving it in a condition that allows you to rent it to someone else. This is more cost-effective than having to repair a unit. Before the tenant moves in, take videos and photos of the unit. Additionally, have a checklist of anything wrong with the unit before them moving in. For example, an old water stain in the bathroom resulted from an issue that has already been resolved. 


When the tenant informs you that they intend to move out, provide them with a move-out letter. This is your opportunity to tell them how they should clean the apartment, the steps they should take for moving out, and when you will do a final inspection. Additionally, ask them for a forwarding address. Not only are you required to return their security deposit (if there is only basic wear and tear to the unit), but it shows that you want to work with them. 


Your Itemized List Shouldn’t Be A Surprise 

Tenants have the right to ask you to inspect their apartment with them present. This happens 1-2 weeks before they move out. (You will also conduct your own inspection after they move out.) Get ahead by offering them at least two times when you are available. During the inspection, provide the tenant with the list of anything that would otherwise be resolved by withholding their deposit. Not only are you telling the tenant everything on your itemized list, but you are also allowing them to fix it. 


After the tenant moves out, compare your list to the one you created during your last inspection. You should also take pictures (or videos) of any damage. These can be compared to the photos/videos you took prior to the tenant moving in. (As a side note, tenants can also take before/after pictures of the unit so that they have evidence of how they left it in case the landlord tries to misuse their deposit.)


Contact an Attorney Who Understands Landlord-Tenant Disputes

The legal team at Drucker & Mattia, PLLC, reviews, edits, and drafts commercial and residential leases, protects tenants from unscrupulous landlords and has a command of the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019. Contact our office to schedule your consultation if you have any additional questions or are immersed in a landlord-tenant dispute.

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Drucker & Mattia PLLC

When you’re facing legal issues or pursuing a lawsuit, skilled legal counsel makes a big difference. At Drucker & Mattia, PLLC, we specialize in a wide range of legal areas to meet the needs of a diverse client base.

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