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Failure to return a security deposit

One of the benefits of renting is that expensive, large household purchases are uncommon. Instead of dropping a lump sum to the plumber or the appliance store, one of the largest checks you'll write is your security deposit.

Even though you don't have access to that money while you're staying in your apartment or house, it's still your money. Responsible renters expect to get it back, or at least a significant portion of it.

Getting your money back

By law, a landlord can withhold funds from a deposit for these reasons:

  • Breach of lease
  • Excessive damage and repair
  • If a tenant tries to use the deposit as a final month's rent
  • If the tenant does not give notice before moving out (depending on language in the lease)

The money likely goes into a savings account and, in theory, will sit untouched. There's an agreement that the money will be returned when the lease ends.

When you don't get your deposit back

Texas law requires the return of your deposit within 30 days after moving out, with an itemized list of any withdrawals for damage or other reasons.

But sometimes the landlord doesn't return the money. A landlord can withhold funds for damages that exceed "normal wear and tear." This isn't a perfectly defined term and disputes are common about when a tenant should pay for repair and when it was a routine maintenance cost. Many tenants also dispute the price of the repair, such as when a bill for damages is more than the market value.

A pledge for contract

The Oxford Dictionary defines deposit as "a pledge for a contract, the balance being payable later."

Landlord-tenant disputes are ultimately contract disputes. The best armor in a contract fight is evidence that shows routine wear and tear, photographs that prove living conditions and receipts from rent checks or other living-related purchases.

The law doesn't just define the timeline and manner for getting your deposit back, but it protects renters from abuse. If there are unreasonable withdrawals, you may be entitled to compensation for the deception, with the landlord also responsible for your attorney fees.

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