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Security Deposits

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
Contents

Video & brochures

This video reviews the basic rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants when it comes to security deposits.

 

Read the Security Deposits brochure for answers to common questions about security deposits.

Read the Tenants Rights brochure to learn about landlord and tenants responsibilities, including security deposits


What is a security deposit and why do I have to pay it?

  • Security deposits can be used by the landlord if you or your guests cause damages to the property beyond normal wear and tear. The landlord may also keep the deposit if you fail to pay rent or move out before the lease ends.
  • In Georgia, a security deposit is money paid to the landlord from the tenant for things such as damage deposits, advanced rent deposits, pet deposits or amounts applied toward payment of rent, services, or utilities. Pet deposits and advance rent deposits which are refundable under the lease are considered part of a security deposit under the Georgia law. *A security deposit does not include nonrefundable pet fees, application fees, cleaning fees, or deposits to hold the apartment before you sign the lease.

Before paying any of these deposits or fees, you should get in writing what the payment is for and under what terms the payment will be refunded.

Listen to a security deposits audio recording for a brief explanation

 

FAQ: What do I need to know about security deposits before I sign a lease?

Georgia law requires that before you pay a security deposit and move in the landlord must give you a complete list of any existing damages to the premises signed by the landlord. You should be given an opportunity to inspect the unit, and check if the list is correct or if additional damages need to be added to the list. You must sign the list or write on the list the things that you noticed or disagreed with, and then sign.

These move-in rules apply to landlords who own more than 10 rental units (including units owned by their spouse and/or children) or who employ a management agent (no matter how many units they own). Under Georgia law, landlords who own fewer than 10 units and who manage the units themselves don’t have to follow these rules but may find them useful.  Landlords who are required to conduct a move-in inspection are not allowed to withhold the security deposit if they failed to perform the inspection when the tenant moved into the unit.

 

FAQ: When I moved into the apartment, two windows did not have screens and two other screens were ripped. After I vacated the apartment, I received a letter from the management company saying they were going to deduct the cost of the screens from my security deposit. Can they deduct this cost from the security deposit?

Generally, you are not responsible for defects that existed when you moved into the unit. If you signed the move-in inspection list and failed to identify the missing and torn screens, you can be charged for the replacement and repair of those screens. If you noted the condition of the screens on the list at the time of the move-in inspection, the cost of the repair should not be deducted from your security deposit.


What is the landlord required to do with the security deposit?

Under Georgia law, a landlord who owns more than 10 rental units, including units owned by their spouse and/or children, or who employs a management agent is required to place the security deposit in a bank escrow account, used only for security deposit funds. The landlord must give the tenant written notice of the location where the security deposit is held but is not required to disclose the account number. As a substitute for having an escrow account, the landlord may post a bond with the superior court clerk of the county in which the rental property is located.

 

FAQ: Is a landlord required to give the tenant the interest earned on the security deposit?

No. Georgia law does not require the landlord to place the security deposit in an interest-bearing account nor does the law require that interest earned be paid to the tenant. However, the tenant and landlord may agree that the landlord will provide interest earned on the security deposit and, if agreed upon, this should be reflected in the lease.


Moving out and getting the deposit back

  • At move-out, leave things in good shape, take photos, get out and return keys on time, and leave a new address.

The security deposit and any letters to do with the deposit must be mailed to your last known address. If it is returned as undeliverable and the landlord can’t find you after a reasonable effort, the security deposit becomes the property of the landlord 90 days after it was mailed.

  • At move-out, ask for a walk through, get a copy of the move-out checklist, and ask for your deposit.

If the landlord owns more than 10 rental units (including units owned by their spouse and/or children OR landlords who use a management agent), they must follow a strict set of rules. 3 business days after the lease ends, or a reasonable time after you leave, they must look at the unit and make a list of damages and the estimated dollar value of the damages, sign it, and give the list to you. You then have 5 business days after the lease ended to look at the unit, and sign the move-out inspection list or specify in writing the things you disagree with. (You should try to be with the landlord during the move out inspection.) If you don’t write that you disagree with the list of damages from the landlord, then you cannot argue with the landlord if they withhold your security deposit.

  • If you gave proper notice and left without owing any rent or damages, you have to give the landlord 30 days after the lease ends (or the surrender and acceptance of the premises) to return a security deposit or explain in writing why any of it has been kept – the exact reasons why they’re keeping it, a list of any damages, and the estimated dollar value of the damage.

If you left the unit owing your landlord rent, and the amount that you owe is more than the security deposit, your landlord does not have to give you notice that they are withholding your security deposit.

If the amount you owe is less than the security deposit, the landlord can keep the amount unpaid from the security deposit, and they must give you back the rest with a letter why part of the deposit was withheld within 30 days.

  • If your landlord does not return all or some of your deposit, you may have a claim, including for an amount three times that withheld, as well as attorney’s fees.

If your landlord keeps part or all of your security deposit

Normal Wear and Tear

The question of what is normal wear and tear is not always clear. Here is an example, think about these things from the point of view of the landlord and tenant:

a. Stains on a carpet.

b. Living room walls painted.

c. Nail holes for hanging pictures throughout the house.

d. A missing lighting fixture.

e. A filthy apartment. Decaying food and trash throughout.

Worn places on floors and occasional stains (a.), and nail holes for pictures (c.) could all be considered normal wear and tear.

Depending on the terms of the lease, redecorating (b.), and putting holes in the walls to hang pictures (c.) may be prohibited.

Tenants do not have the right to remove permanent fixtures (d.), and landlords can expect the premises to be left relatively clean (e.).

 

Reasons the landlord may deduct from the security deposit

  • Physical damage to the premises by the tenant, members of the tenant’s household, pets, or guests;
  • Damage caused by negligent or careless acts;
  • Damage due to accident or abuse of the property;
  • Unpaid rent or late charges;
  • Unpaid pet fees;
  • Unpaid utilities that were the tenant’s responsibility under the lease; or
  • Damage to the landlord caused by early termination

 

FAQ: How do I know if the landlord is charging a reasonable amount for the repairs?

To figure out the reasonableness of the charges, you could talk with reliable sources in the repair business and get estimates from them to compare to the amount charged by the landlord.

 

Repair or replacement amount?

Example: If you damaged the ten-year-old carpet so that it can no longer be used, you should be charged for the value of the ten-year-old carpet and not for the cost of the new replacement carpet. Amounts withheld must be reasonable.

 

FAQ: What if the landlord refuses to give back the security deposit even though the tenant deserves to have the money refunded?

If a landlord keeps all or part of a security deposit, he has 30 days in which to send the tenant a written statement why the security deposit was kept. If the landlord wrongfully keeps the security deposit, the tenant may bring a lawsuit in the county court where the landlord resides or where his designated agent for service resides to recover the security deposit, interest on the amount while it was wrongfully withheld, attorney fees, and the cost of filing the legal action. You can only sue to recover amounts held by the landlord for damages which that you disputed on the move-out inspection list. The court will most likely not allow you to recover for the cost of repairing items listed as damaged on the move-out inspection list that you did not dispute.

If the landlord owns more than 10 units or uses a 3rd party to manage the unit he can be liable for three times the amount of the wrongfully kept security deposit plus attorney’s fees. The landlord may not have to pay the damages if they show that the withholding was not intentional and resulted from an error which happened even though they have procedures in place that are reasonably designed to avoid such an error.

Listen to an audio recording for an explanation if the landlord refuses to give back security deposit

 

FAQ: My former landlord sent me a letter saying that I owed $500. I wrote the landlord stating that I disagreed with this statement. The landlord has now turned the matter over to a collection agency. What do I do?

If the landlord has turned the debt over to a collection agency you can write to the landlord disputing the debt and write to the credit bureau disputing the debt, informing them that the information given them by the landlord is incorrect. It may be helpful to send the credit agency a copy of any inspection lists or other letters that you wrote to your landlord concerning this debt.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a person may have incorrect or incomplete information corrected without charge. If a tenant disputes information in their credit report, the credit bureau must reinvestigate it within a reasonable period of time unless it believes that the dispute is irrelevant or frivolous. If after reinvestigation a disputed item is found to be inaccurate or can no longer be verified, the credit bureau must delete it. If the reinvestigation does not resolve the dispute the tenant may file a statement of up to one hundred (100) words with the credit bureau. This statement becomes part of the credit report unless the credit bureau has reasonable grounds to believe it is frivolous or irrelevant.


Additional resources

2-1-1 is the national abbreviated dialing code for free access to health and human services information and referral
Call 2-1-1 for free and confidential service to help you find the local resources you need

Visit the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta 211 database page for assistance programs in the Metropolitan Atlanta area

Visit the United Way of Central Georgia 211 database page for assistance programs in the Central Georgia area