Am I entitled to my security deposit back?

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Am I entitled to my security deposit back?

Husband and I Signed a lease scheduled to begin
on November 1, 2018, but we ended up not needing
the unit. The landlord agreed to refund our deposit if
we turned the keys back in before the contract date,
which we did. But when he got the keys back he
refused to give us our deposit even though we never
moved into the unit and the lease was voided before
the contract date. And it says in our lease that the
deposit is refundable. Do we have legal recourse
against him?

Asked on October 26, 2018 under Real Estate Law, Alabama

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

IF the lease provides that the deposit is refundable under this circumstance, then you should be able to get it back: if necessary, you can sue for "breach of contract" for violating the terms of the lease for the deposit's return. The landlord must obey the lease, and so return the deposit if/when the lease says he must.
If the lease does not however give you the right to deposit's return in these circumstances, however, you may not get it back. Once you sign the lease, you are obligated to pay all the rent due under it (i.e. rent for the entire length or duration of the lease) even if you never move in. There is no right to cancel before the start date of the lease unless and only to the extent that the lease itself, by its plain terms, gives you that right; rather, as with any other contract, once signed, you are obligated. 
Technically, you are only obligated for the rent until the earlier of a) the expiration of the lease, or b) the landlord manages to re-rent it, but in practice, that will almost always be at least long enough so that you incur charges (i.e. rent) in an amount at least equal to your security deposit. So if you can not get the deposit back under the lease, the landlord will almost certainly be entitled to keep it to offset the rent you would owe under the lease.


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