The law concerning security deposits

Reprinted with the permission of the Ohio State Legal Services Association.

Q. What is a security deposit?

A. A security deposit is a payment required by a landlord to ensure that a tenant pays rent on time and keeps the rental unit in good condition. If the tenant damages the property or leaves owing rent, the landlord can use the security deposit to cover what the tenant owes.

Q. Can the landlord require me to pay a security deposit?

A. Yes.

Q. Is there any limit to the amount the landlord can charge?

A. No. However, if the landlord charges more than an amount equal to rent for one month, then the Ohio law requires the landlord to pay the tenant 5 percent per year on the amount in excess of the monthly rental amount. This 5 percent payment rarely occurs.

Q. Can I use my security deposit to pay the last month’s rent?

A. As a tenant , you simply do not have the right to decide by yourself that this is how the security deposit will be used. However, if the landlord agrees to allow you to use the deposit to pay the last month’s rent, then you can do so.

Q. Can the landlord keep my security deposit?

A. Yes. If you owe the landlord any amounts of money for items that were your responsibility to pay as required by your agreement (written or oral) with the landlord. Some examples would include any unpaid rent, late fees, or utility bills and damages to the unit beyond normal wear and tear caused by you.

Q. Can the landlord sue me for more money if the landlord believes that I owe more money than the amount of my security deposit?

A. Yes. However, it is more likely that the landlord will send your account to a debt collection company and to a credit reporting agency.

Q. Can I get my security deposit back as soon as I move out?

A. No. A landlord has 30 days to return the security deposit.

Q. What must I do to get my security deposit returned to me?

A. When you move out, you must be current in rent, utilities, etc., and must not have damaged the unit beyond normal wear and tear. You must also give your landlord a forwarding address to which the money may be sent. It does not have to be your new address, if you do not want the landlord to know your new address, but it must be an address capable of receiving mail. Make sure you date and sign the notice of where to return the deposit (and keep a copy).

Q. If my landlord does not return the deposit, can I sue the landlord?

A. Yes. If the landlord fails to return the security deposit within 30 days after you have moved out and given notice of a forwarding address, then you can file a complaint in small claims court.

Q. What can I get if I sue my landlord?

A. You can get three things:
• The amount “wrongfully withheld” by the landlord.
• Double the amount “wrongfully withheld.”
• Reasonable attorney fees.

Q. What does “wrongfully withheld” mean?

A. Here is an example. Assume your security deposit was $500. Further assume that the court believes that your landlord properly withheld $150 for a utility bill you forgot to pay. That would leave $350 that the landlord wrongfully withheld and should be refunded to you. If you asked for double damages (and you must ask in order to receive them), the court must award another $350, for a total of $700.

Q. What if the landlord sends me part of my security deposit and a list of items for which he used the rest of my security deposit, but I disagree with the amount he kept?

A. Do NOT cash the check. You may not be able to collect any further money from the landlord if you cash the check. If you want to be absolutely certain to preserve your right to sue the landlord for all amounts you think are owed to you, then you must return the check, tell the landlord how much you think should be returned to you, and if he refuses, sue the landlord for whatever amount you think is owed to you.