Have you heard the stories of landlords not returning renters’ security deposit at the end of the lease term? I have heard quite a few myself. Some sounded justifiable and others were just horror story examples of dishonesty or incompetence.
Let’s shed some light on the issue. A security deposit in a typical rental transaction in New York City is equal to one month’s rent. For non-regulated apartments, there is no limit to how high it could be; I’ve seen security deposits up to three or even six month’s rent. The purpose of the security deposit is to insure the landlord for covering potential damages to the unit by the tenant. Higher than one month’s amount is typically asked from tenants in furnished apartments or from individuals who have poor credit and/or are financially unqualified (i.e., whose sources of gross income do not exceed approximately 40 times the monthly rent).
To the best of my knowledge, the time required for a landlord to return the security deposit is not precisely defined by the law. The prevailing practice is “within 30 days from the lease end and tenant’s moving out.”
So what is the best practice to ensure a stress-free end of your lease and the return of your security deposit?
- Notify your landlord in advance of the exact date you plan to move out. Ask the landlord to come and meet you so together you can both inspect the unit on the day of your departure.
- Leave the apartment in the same condition as at the beginning of your lease, except for “reasonable wear and tear”… (please don’t get me started on what’s reasonable! J)
- If the landlord is not present for your move-out, take pictures of the unit and document the condition of all rooms and floors. Email the pictures to the landlord right away and start a dialogue about when can you expect return of your security deposit.
- Pay your outstanding bills. Remember, the landlord may hold on to the deposit if payment for certain bills has not yet been received. For instance, if electricity bills, heating or phone bills were your responsibility, and such payments have not yet been made, he or she may rightfully wait to deduct proper amounts.
What if the landlord is “unreasonable” and does not return your emails and calls? At this point I recommend taking two steps:
- Send a written complaint to the NYS Attorney General’s office. Explain what has occurred and give them the landlord’s name and address. The AG’s office will contact the landlord, believe it or not, and often this will force the landlord to contact you and settle the issue. Many get really nervous when they see that the NYS Attorney General has taken an interest in them! J
- If this doesn’t work, you should consider submitting a claim to Small Claims Court for damages. Remember, presently the upper limit for damages in SCC is $5,000. If your deposit is for a larger amount, you will need to go to regular court and for this you will likely need good attorney to represent you.
Here is a very useful link from the NYS AG’s office that explains the renters’ bill of rights in the maze of New York City rental regulations and practices. https://ag.ny.gov/sites/default/files/pdfs/publications/Tenant_Rights_2011.pdf
by Fritz Frigan, Executive Director of Sales & Leasing
If you have specific questions about rentals or sales in the New York City real estate market, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org