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Jun 08

Rental Fundamentals: On Security Deposits

Posted on June 8, 2017 at 4:33 pm by Dawn Corrigan

By Demetrius Pettway, Customer Service Representative

When renting a residence, being well informed will often make the difference between a good rental experience and a bad one. Here at the Housing Office, we receive many questions asking for advice on a wide variety of landlord-tenant topics. One issue that frequently results in misunderstandings is the question of security deposits, and we get many calls from renters who—whether they have a housing choice voucher or not—want to report that their landlord will not return their security deposit.

One thing to keep in mind is that, under Florida landlord-tenant law, there are certain scenarios in which the landlord is allowed to keep the security deposit, assuming all legal procedures have been followed. The security deposit is a safeguard and somewhat of an incentive to make sure the property owner will have their property returned in the condition in which the tenant moved in--or at the very least, have the money to bring their property back to a livable condition for the next tenant, after the current tenant has moved out.

The regulations that govern how this is to be carried out vary from state to state. In, Florida, once the landlord accepts the tenant’s security deposit, the money has to be put in an account separate from rent money or the landlord’s own personal account. If the landlord decides to charge a tenant at the end of the lease, he or she has to give the tenant a statement of charges, going item by item to show what the tenant is being charged for and what percentage of the security deposit will be used for each damaged item listed. The landlord must make his or her intentions for withholding the deposit known no later than a month after the tenant has moved out; any longer than that and the deposit must be returned in full.

There are also restrictions on what items a landlord can count as damages. Deficiencies in a rental unit may be classified either as “normal wear and tear,” or damages. Normal wear and tear is the expected decline that occurs through regular, everyday living while inhabiting the space. Scuffed baseboards, worn down carpet, and worn out weather stripping may be categorized as normal wear and tear. The landlord cannot charge a tenant for items such as these. Examples of damages could include items such as burn marks in the carpet or on Formica counters, or large holes in the walls.

In most jurisdictions, “normal wear and tear” has not been precisely defined, so there’s a lot of debate over where the line is between ordinary use versus damages. The Internet is full of lists of what constitutes “normal wear and tear,” all of them different. Therefore, it’s always best to read over your own lease thoroughly to determine how the security deposit will be handled.