I just moved out of a home I rented and my landlord kept my entire security deposit.

After a tenant moves out of a rental unit, a landlord can only keep the security deposit for 4 reasons:

  1. Unpaid rent;

  2. Repairing damages caused by the tenant other than normal wear and tear;

  3. Cleaning the rental unit, but only to make it as clean as when the tenant moved in; and

  4. If the rental agreement allows it, for the cost of replacing, restoring or returning items, such as furniture, provided by the landlord.

Within 21 days after the tenant moves out, the landlord must mail or give the tenant a list of items the landlord deducted from the security deposit and return any remaining money from the deposit. If the landlord keeps some or all of the security deposit for the four reasons listed above, the landlord should also send the tenant bills and invoices explaining the charges.


If you think your landlord is improperly keeping some or all of your security deposit, you should send your landlord a written letter. The letter should:

  1. State how much money you think the landlord should return to you;

  2. Explain why you think the landlord should return the money to you;

  3. Ask the landlord to return the money by a certain date;

  4. Provide your current mailing address and phone number.

It is a good idea to send the letter by certified mail, so you can confirm the landlord received it. You should also keep a copy of the letter.  You can also call the landlord to talk about the security deposit. If you talk to your landlord, you should follow up with a letter about what you talked about and what you agreed to.


If you are not able to work out an agreement with your landlord, you can sue your landlord in small claims court for a return of your security deposit. But, your landlord can can file a “counterclaim” against you. In the counterclaim, the landlord can sue you for unpaid rent, damages to the rental unit or cleaning costs.


Download our Security Deposits: Moving Out fact sheet

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