What should I know about security deposits?
Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
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Security deposits in Georgia
What should I know? +
- What is a security deposit and why do I have to pay it?
- What are my rights?
- What is the landlord’s responsibility?
- How do I get my security deposit back?
A security deposit is money that you give to your landlord or property management company to hold while you live in the home. The security deposit can be used for damages to the property beyond normal wear and tear. Your landlord may also keep the deposit if you fail to pay rent or move out before the lease ends.
A security deposit does not include:
non-refundable pet fees,
application fees, cleaning fees, or
deposits to hold the apartment before you sign the lease
If your landlord owns more than 10 rental units OR has a management agent, your landlord must give you a complete list of any existing damages to the unit. You should be given an opportunity to inspect the unit, and check if the list is right. Add any other damages you see to the list. You must sign the list or write on the list the things that you noticed or disagreed with, and then sign. Your landlord cannot charge you for damages that were there before you moved in. Generally, you are not responsible for defects that existed when you moved into the unit. If you signed the move-in inspection list and did not add issues you might be charged. If your landlord did not do the inspection when you moved into the unit, you cannot be charged for damages. Landlords who own fewer than 10 units and who manage the units themselves don’t have to follow these rules.
Landlords who own more than 10 rental units, or who have a management agent, have to place the security deposit in a bank escrow account. Your landlord must tell you where the security deposit is held but doesn't have to give you the account number. Your landlord may also post a bond with the superior court clerk of the county.
The security deposit doesn't have to be in an interest-bearing account and the landlord doesn't have to pay you interest. But, you may agree in the lease that your landlord will give you the interest earned on the security deposit.
What if my landlord does not have a management agent and owns ten or less rental units?
Your landlord does not have to:
maintain an escrow account,
do move-in/move-out inspections and lists, or
send notice within 30 days of your move-out
Your landlord still cannot keep the security deposit without a legal reason.
You will get your security deposit back after you move out if:
you give your landlord proper notice,
leave things in good shape without owing any rent or damages,
return keys on time, and
provide a new address.
You should take pictures of your home before you move out, in case you need proof.
Your landlord must mail the security deposit to your last known address. If it is returned and your landlord can’t find you after a reasonable effort, the security deposit becomes the property after 90 days.
If your landlord owns more than 10 rental units OR uses a management agent, they must follow a strict set of rules. Three days after the lease ends and you move out, they must:
look at the unit
make a list of damages and the estimated dollar value of the damages,
sign it, and
give the list to you
You then have five days to:
look at the unit,
review the move-out inspection list, and
sign it or write the things you disagree with
You should try to be with your landlord during the move out inspection.
If you don’t write that you disagree with the list of damages from the landlord, you can't argue with the landlord if they withhold your security deposit. If you move out without telling your landlord, the landlord only has more time to look at the unit. You also lose your right to inspect the unit. Your landlord has 30 days to return your security deposit or let you know why they are keeping it. Your landlord must tell you the exact reasons why they’re keeping it, a list of any damages, and the estimated amount of the damages.
If you moved out and still owe rent, your landlord can use the security deposit for rent.
If the amount you owe is less than the security deposit, they must give you back the rest with a letter within 30 days.
If your landlord does not return all or some of your deposit, you may have a claim. You could get an amount three times what was withheld, as well as attorney’s fees. You cannot recover anything if you were with the landlord during the inspection and signed the final damages list . But, if you did not inspect the unit after move-out or wasn't there for the landlord’s inspection, you can still fight the damage amount.
What happens to my security deposit if my application is rejected?
If your application is rejected, the landlord must return your security deposit within thirty (30) days.
What happens to my security deposit if my rental property has a new owner?
If an apartment complex owner changes, the former owner must transfer the security deposit to the new owner or give it back to you. If the former owner fails to take either of these actions, the tenant has a legal action against the prior owner. A tenant should write to the former owner and the current owner requesting information on the security deposit.
What can I do? +
- Why is my landlord keeping part or all of my security deposit?
- Is my landlord charging a reasonable amount for the repairs?
- What can I do if my landlord refuses to return my security deposit even though I deserve to have the money returned?
- What can I do if my landlord has turned my debt over to a collection agency?
Reasons your landlord may deduct from the security deposit may include:
Physical damages to the premises by the tenant, members of the tenant’s household, pets, or guests
Damages caused by negligent or careless acts
Damages 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
Damages to the landlord caused by early termination
What is considered normal wear and tear?
Normal wear and tear is damages that naturally occurs from a tenant living in the property. It’s not caused by neglect or abuse of the property. Examples of normal wear and tear include: carpet or hardwood fading due to sunlight exposure, dirty grout, or loose door handles. Landlords need to fix normal wear and tear but aren’t required to fix tenant caused damages. Examples of damages include a broken toilet seat, a whole in the middle of the door, or carpet soaked with pet urine.
Should I cash the check if my landlord sent me only part of my security deposit?
If you want the rest of the security deposit, you should not cash it because under Georgia law acceptance of partial payment could be considered accord and satisfaction, and that could be used by the landlord to prevent you from recovering the rest of the security deposit. You should immediately return the check to the landlord and sue the landlord for the full amount of security deposit that you believe you are entitled to.
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.
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.
What can I do if my landlord refuses to return my security deposit even though I deserve to have the money returned?
As stated previously, if your landlord keeps all or part of your security deposit, they have 30 days to send you a written statement why the security deposit was kept.
If your landlord wrongfully keeps your security deposit, you may bring a lawsuit in the county court where the landlord resides, where your landlord’s designated agent for service resides, or where the rental unit is located. You may bring a lawsuit 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 your landlord for damages which 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 your 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. Your 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.
If you believe your landlord is falsely accusing you of debt, but your landlord has turned the debt over to a collection agency, you can write to the landlord and the credit bureau disputing the debt, informing them that the information given to 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.
Always get a receipt for any deposit or fee that you pay. If the fee is refundable, ask the landlord to put this information on the receipt.
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. Get a receipt and know what your lease says about deposits. Do not agree to non-refundable security deposits.
- Avoid paying multiple months of rent up-front – that is often asking for problems later.
- 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
- Read the Security Deposits brochure for answers to common questions about security deposits.
- Read the Tenants Rights brochure to learn about landlord and tenant’s responsibilities, including security deposits.
The video below reviews the basic rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants when it comes to security deposits.