How to Get Your Security Deposit Back

A security deposit is money that you give to your landlord to cover the costs of any property damage beyond normal wear and tear. It is important to take photos and document any damages that occurred both before you move in and again as you are leaving, as proof of the condition you left the apartment in. 

Protecting the landlord from tenants who don’t pay rent is not the security deposit’s explicit purpose. Tenants often use the deposit to cover the last month’s rent before they move out, but you can be brought to Housing Court for nonpayment if you do that. The risk is low, but it is possible.

The amount that a landlord can require for a security deposit depends on the type of apartment you are in. In unregulated apartments, landlords can ask for as much money as they would like. There are also no regulations about increasing the deposit as your rent increases. In rent-stabilized apartments, the landlord cannot ask for more than one month’s rent. If they ask for more, you can file an overcharge complaint. When your rent goes up, they can ask you to add the difference to your deposit.

The landlord must return this money minus any lawful deductions for damages or back rent in a reasonable period of time after you move out. Unfortunately, New York State law does not define what “reasonable” means. If you don’t see any sign of getting your deposit back after about a month, you can then take further action. This is done by suing in Small Claims Court, which handles lawsuits for less than $5,000 and meets in the evening. You don’t have to hire a lawyer. 

If your landlord has a history of refusing to return security deposits, you can contact the Consumer Affairs Department of the state Attorney General’s office.

If your building has six or more units, your landlord must keep your security deposit in an interest-bearing account. The landlord can keep up to 1 percent of the interest earned. If you want to get the remaining balance, you will need to provide your Social Security number to your landlord.