The security deposit that you paid when you first moved into a property is one of the biggest expenses related to moving as a renter. Georgia state law does not impose a limit on how much of a security deposit a landlord can charge, which means that frequently people find themselves paying a sizable deposit in addition to the rent due for the first month of their tenancy.
Given that you are a responsible tenant who always upheld the terms of the lease and who maintained the property in excellent condition, you likely expect your landlord to fully refund your security deposit. Unfortunately, they have refused to do so thus far. When is it lawful for a landlord to retain your security deposit after you leave a rental unit?
1. When there is damage to the property
Landlords can retain some of your security deposit to pay for any damage to the property beyond reasonable wear and tear. They may also impose the cleaning fee and deduct that fee from your security deposit, although that information should generally be available to you at the time that you sign the lease.
Additionally, you should have had the opportunity to review an inventory of the property’s condition to validate whether or not the landlord accurately reports the condition of the unit before and after you live there.
2. When there is unpaid rent
While you may feel like giving your landlord 30 days’ notice before you move out because you bought a house is sufficient, the terms of your lease very likely say otherwise. Unless you have the option of terminating the lease early or have a month-to-month lease, your landlord can potentially retain your security deposit for any additional months of rent due on your lease at the time that you leave.
3. When there are unpaid fees from your lease
Perhaps you had a cat and never told your landlord about it because they charge a monthly fee for the pet and an extra cleaning fee. However, they documented the presence of the pet. They could then potentially deduct the fees related to that unauthorized animal or two unapproved overnight guests in accordance with the terms of your lease. Any fees and charges explicitly detailed in your lease and not paid at the time that you leave could result in claims against your security deposit.
Landlords generally have to communicate in writing about any amount they intend to retain and provide detailed records related to damages or other claims. Tenants who believe their landlord has violated their rights under Georgia state law can potentially take the landlord to court to compel the return of some or all of their security deposit.
Discussing your case and reviewing your lease with a lawyer familiar with Georgia real estate laws could help those who want to fight back against a landlord’s misconduct.