Can my landlord hold my security deposit?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Can my landlord hold my security deposit?

I moved into a 1 bedroom apartment 6 months ago the lease is now over and I’m moving out on the 31st of the month. I agreed to give the apartment back the same condition it was given to me. I had hung some picture frames on the wall but nothing excessive. There are about 8 tiny holes in the wall which I agreed to spackle and pain if necessary. However, my landlord does not have the original

paint he used, nor does he know the exact shad of white it was. He is telling me that this is my problem and I should know what color it was, which doesn’t sound reasonable. If I spackle the holes and agree to paint over the areas that are damaged, can he hold my security deposit simply because it doesn’t match with the rest of the wall?

Asked on January 26, 2017 under Real Estate Law, New Jersey


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

It is not the tenant's problem to repaint unless and only if a written lease states it is, and then the tenant must comply with what the lease (which is a contract, after all) says.
In the absence of a written lease provision requiring repainting to some standard which you may not be able to achieve, the landlord can only withhold part or all of your deposit if you cause damage exceeding normal "wear and tear" to the unit; however, restoring normal wear and tear is the landlord's resposibility and a cost of doing business.
I practice landlord-tenant law in NJ, and in my experience, no court (at least no judge I've appeared before on a matter like this) would let a landlord withhold an entire security deposit for "8 tiny holes" from hanging pictures. Typically, the landlord would get nothing (many judges consider hanging pictures normal use or "wear and tear" for a residential unit) or, at most, if the landlord had to hire handyman to spackle (or respackle) the holes and touch up paint, that cost, which is typically maybe $200 - $300 or so. The fact that the exact paint shade may be difficult to match is not the tenant's problem and not chargeable to the tenant.
If the landlord improperly withholds your deposit, you could sue him for the money, such as in small claims court, acting as your own attorney ("pro se"). Under the terms of the Security Deposit Act, depending on the exact circumstances, you may be able to get additional money, over and above the deposit--up to double the wrongfully withheld amount.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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