Legally, a landlord may use the deposit for any cleaning or repairs necessary to restore the rental unit to its condition at the beginning of the tenancy (minus ordinary wear and tear), and to cover unpaid back rent (and a reasonable amount of future rent if you break a lease and leave early). We emphasize that the landlord may not use your security deposit for the cost of remedying the results of ordinary use. This means that if the paint is ruined because your toddler mistook the wall for an easel, expect to be charged; but if the carpet needs to be replaced because it’s ten years old and is simply worn out, it’s the landlord’s responsibility.
Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to decide what constitutes ordinary wear and tear or what must be done to leave a rental unit clean. Here are some guidelines:
- You shouldn’t be charged for damage or filth that was there when you moved in.
- If the landlord can repair an item without diminishing its function or appearance, he ought to choose that over replacement.
- The longer you’ve lived in a place, the greater the amount of wear and tear.
- If you’ve paid a nonrefundable cleaning fee (some states allow them in addition to security deposits), you shouldn’t be charged for additional cleaning.