Security Deposits: What You Need to Know
Authored By: Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, Inc.
What is a Security Deposit?
A security deposit is any advance money a tenant gives to a landlord as security against damage to the rental premises or for advance rent. A security deposit may be called a “damage deposit,” “last month's rent,” a “pet deposit,” or by another name.
Am I Entitled to Interest?
Not necessarily. The law gives a landlord three choices:
- Put the security deposit in a separate non-interest bearing account;
- Put the deposit in a separate interest bearing account for the benefit of the tenant; or
- Post a bond and pay the tenant 5 percent simple interest.
Does the Landlord Have to Tell Me Where My Deposit is and Its Interest Rate?
A landlord who rents more than five separate dwelling units must notify the tenant in writing within 30 days of receiving the security deposit of the manner in which the deposit is being held, whether the deposit is earning interest and, if so, the rate of interest. The landlord must also inform the tenant in writing of when the tenant will receive interest payments.
Can I Apply My Security Deposit Toward the Last Month's Rent?
Ordinarily, security deposits are not intended as last month's rent, but instead as security against damage to the rental property. The landlord may agree to allow you to apply your deposit to the last month's rent, but he or she does not have to unless you both specifically contract to this arrangement.
How Do I Get My Security Deposit Back?
Florida law requires landlords to give you notice if they want to keep some or all of your security deposit. If they plan on keeping some or all of it they have to give you a notice sent by certified mail within 30 days of you moving out of your rental home at the end of your lease (or they give up the right to keep it). If your landlord does not plan on keeping any of your security deposit the law still gives your landlord 15 days to return your deposit to you after you move out.
To protect your rights, you must tell your landlord your new address. Because the landlord has to send the notice to your last known mailing address, always give written notice of your new address to the landlord and keep a copy to show that you did for your records.
Tenants who do not have a written lease and tenants who move before the end of their lease must give their landlord notice of the address where they can be contacted seven (7) days before they move out. Deliver your notice personally (with someone to witness it if possible), or send it by certified mail. If you do not give this notice the landlord does not have to notify of you about claims they will make against your deposit (tell you about the money they will not return). Not giving notice of the tenant’s new address does not affect the tenant’s right to sue for refund of the deposit. Tenants who move before the end of their lease should, however, think carefully before suing for return of security deposit as they may be properly charged an early lease termination fee that is greater than the security deposit amount and may come away from court owing more than they did when they started.
If after 30 days the landlord does not return your deposit or send you a letter stating why all or part of your deposit won't be returned, you can sue him or her for the return of the entire deposit. Keep in mind that although your landlord gives up the right to make a claim against your deposit after thirty days have passed s/he can still sue a tenant for damage done to the landlord’s property. Similarly, if the landlord does not return the deposit and the tenant sues for its return the landlord can file a “counterclaim” for damage done by the tenant to the landlord’s property.
If you are sent a letter from your landlord telling you that s/he will keep some or all of your deposit, and you disagree with the landlord, you must write back within 15 days (it is best to send it by certified mail). In your letter you must put in writing why you object or disagree. You can disagree with either the amount of money the landlord plans on keeping or the reason that they give for keeping it.
It is always best to try to reach an agreement with your landlord about return of the security deposit without going to court. If you and the landlord cannot agree, you can sue, but you will have to prove that you were not responsible for the claimed damage. Because you will need proof/evidence of the condition of the rental property if you have to go to court, or even if you are negotiating with your landlord, it is always wise to take pictures or recordings when you move into a rental home and when you move out. Have a walk-through with the landlord where you note problems at move-in so that you are not blamed for things when it is time for you to move out. Take your photos/recordings at move-out after all of your belongings are out and you have cleaned the home. It costs money to file a lawsuit (although you can request that the fee be waived if you can’t afford it), and the person who loses in court can be ordered to pay the other person’s court costs and attorney’s fees - so think carefully before giving up on reaching an agreement with your landlord and going to court.
It is questionable whether a tenant can sue for return of the deposit if he or she has not objected.
Can I Go to Court Without a Lawyer?
Yes. The Small Claims Court is set up to settle disputes involving $5,000 or less without requiring people to have a lawyer. However, any person has the right to bring a lawyer if he or she so chooses. Please read our resource about Small Claims Court to understand how it works.
Updated: May 8, 2017