How Security Deposits are Held

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jun 29, 2022

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State laws and local ordinances determine how security deposits are to be held. You should check your state laws and local ordinances to find what laws apply to you. For example, the state of California does not require interest to be paid on deposits, but the cities of Berkeley and San Francisco do. So if you’re a landlord with rental property in the city of San Francisco, you will have to pay interest on deposits.

During the time the tenant lives in the rented unit, the deposit belongs to the tenant and cannot be used to satisfy the landlord’s debts or creditors. State laws and local ordinances sometimes specifically state how these deposits must be held. Deposits may have to be held in separate accounts or interest-bearing accounts paying a specified interest rate. There may be different requirements if a landlord has several rental units. The interest on such accounts may have to be paid to the tenant at a specified time or the landlord might be permitted to retain an administrative fee. In some states there are no limitations and landlords commingle the tenants’ security deposits with their own funds and are only responsible to return the money when the tenant leaves. Both landlords and tenants should check their local laws to find out what is required.

Tenants who rent rooms to roommates may be in the position of the landlord and required to pay interest on security deposits to their subtenants. 

Interest income is taxable, and you should consult a tax advisor to determine whether the liability belongs to the landlord or the tenant.

For FAQ about Landlord/Tenant Law, visit the Free Advice website or ask a question about your landlord-tenant issue on our Free Advice Law Forum to see how others have handled similar situations.

Check out these related articles:

Security Deposits

How Much a Landlord Can Charge for a Security Deposit

Getting Back Your Security Deposit

Inspection of the Premises

Returning Security Deposits

Tenants’ Privacy and Landlords’ Access

State Laws: Landlord/Tenant

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