What can I do if my former landlord doesn’t return my security deposit?

Asked on July 20, 2015 under Real Estate Law, New Jersey


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

The issue is *why* did the landlord not return the deposit? The landlord is allowed to keep the deposit to pay for damage you (or your family, guests, pets, etc.) did to the unit which exceeds normal "wear and tear"; or for unpaid rent or "additional rent." ("Additional rent" are charges in the lease other than the base rent, like late charges, if any.)

If the landlord kept the deposit for any other reason, he is in the wrong, and you could sue him for the return of the money.

Or if he supposedly kept the deposit for damage or for unpaid rent but you disagree--e.g. you feel you did not do the damage, or it did not cost as much to fix as the landlord claims--you could again sue for the return of that portion of the deposit you feel was improperly withheld. You'd have to show that you did not do the damage or that it was less costly to repair than the landlord said.

A good option, if the amount of the deposit does not exceed the small claims court limit, is to sue in small claims, acting as your own attorney ("pro se") to save money. You can get forms and instructions from the small claims court, often from its website or, if not, in person.

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