A security deposit is money which actually belongs to the tenant, but is held by the landlord for protection against damages.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not require a tenant to pay a security deposit to his or her landlord. However, many landlords insist on one to cover damages that may occur to their property during their tenants’ stay. State laws governing the amount, handling, and return of security deposits, also known as escrow funds, do exist.
The Landlord/Tenant Act regulates security deposits and places a limit on the amount a landlord can charge.
ACCORDING TO THE LAW:
- During the first year of a lease, a security deposit cannot be charged in excess of two months’ rent.
- At the beginning of the second year of the lease, a landlord cannot request a security deposit that is equivalent to more than one month’s rent. Therefore, if the landlord asked for a security deposit of two months’ rent when you first signed the lease, he/she must refund the equivalent of one month’s rent at the beginning of the second year.
- At the beginning of the third year of a lease, the landlord must put any security deposit over $100.00 into an interest-bearing bank account.
- At the end of the third year of the lease, the landlord must start giving the tenant the interest earned by the account, minus a 1% fee which the landlord may retain.
- After five years the landlord cannot increase a security deposit even though the monthly rent may have been increased.
When you first move in, request that the landlord go through the property with you and together determine any damage which will be subtracted from your security deposit. Also, make a list of any existing damages and repairs that need to be made. (This move-in checklist is provided for your use). Keep a copy of the list, give one to the landlord and attach a copy to the lease. Such records will assure that the security deposit will be applied only to damages for which you are responsible.
Recovering Your Security Deposit
There are several steps involved in getting your security deposit refunded. The most essential step for you to take when you move out is to return your keys and give your landlord written notice of your new address. You should do this just before you move. If you don’t know what your new address will be, give the landlord the address of a friend or relative who can accept mail for you. You should send this notification by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you will be able to prove that your landlord received it. You should also be sure, as always, to keep a copy. If you take this simple step, your landlord must provide you with a written list of damages and return your security deposit, minus the amount claimed for damages, within 30 days. Should he or she fail to provide a written list of damages within 30 days, the landlord forfeits the right to keep any of your deposit as well as the right to sue you for any damages to the premises. In addition, if your landlord does not return the differences between your deposit and the actual damages to the premises within 30 days, you have the right to sue him or her for double the difference between your deposit and any damages you actually caused. These protections are only available to tenants who can prove that they have given their new address in writing. Even if you failed to give such written notice when terminating your last lease, the landlord is still legally obligated to return your security deposit, less the value of damages to the premises.
If you have difficulty recovering your security deposit, it is possible to bring legal action yourself in the District Magistrate’s Court for a fairly small fee.