Am I entitled to keep a tenant’s security deposit if they broke their lease?

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Am I entitled to keep a tenant’s security deposit if they broke their lease?

I rented a room in my apartment to a tenant and we signed a written lease for a term of 3 months. However, tenant decided to break the lease and moved out, claiming that she was uncomfortable. Now the tenant is suing me in civil court for failure to return her security deposit and a portion of paid rent.

Asked on June 21, 2011 under Real Estate Law, New York

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

In NY a security deposit can be used to cover damages caused by a tenant (not including normal wear and tear). It can also be used to cover any amounts that might be due if a tenant breaks their lease and leave early. However, that having been said, I don't know what you mean when you state that the tenant was "uncomfortable". Was it because renting a room did not provide them enough privacy so they simply felt like moving? Or was it because of something that you may have said or done? If the move was precipitated by the latter reason, and your behavior was such that this tenant was put in fear for their safety or they were sexually harassed, then they can claim "constructive eviction" (that is for all intents and purposes they had no choice but to vacate the premises), or breach of the covenant of "quiet enjoyment" (the promise that a tenant will live in a clean and safe unit). If that's the case and convince the judge of this, they would be entitled to the return of their security deposit.


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