What are a landlord’s rights to withhold a security deposit?

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What are a landlord’s rights to withhold a security deposit?

I have a tenant that recently left an apartment. They left the apartment with a gash in the wall, also small holes from nails and screws (which was against the lease), urine stains produced by their pet dog, and a horrible paint job (it was done to cover a color that I did not agree to but told them it had to be changed back to the original paint style and color when they decided to move). To fix all the items listed above, I informed them that I would not be returning the escrow from their apartment. Now they are threatening to take legal action. Do they have a case?

Asked on December 22, 2012 under Real Estate Law, New York

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

A landlord may lawfully withhold a security deposit:

1) For unpaid rent.

2) To pay the actual out-of-pocket (materials and contractors) cost of repairing damage, which exceeeds normal ear and tear (or which was specifically against the lease), caused by the tenants, their pets, their guests, or their families. "Damage" in this case includes cleaning which exceeds normal wear and tear--such as if you had to have professionals steam clean the carpet to get rid of the urine stains. Note that a landlord may get no compensation for his/her own time and labor, or for the time and labor of any employees who normally work for him/her--only for the labor of contractors.

The landlord may withhold an amount equal to the above, but no more than that. So say you incured $1,000 of damage, but the security deposit was $500--you would have to return $500.


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