What Can I Deduct or Withhold From a Security Deposit?

Written on February 24, 2016 by , updated on November 1, 2017

Security Deposit DeductionsThe rules for handling and deducting from a security deposit are commonly misunderstood. This article will clarify the legitimate reasons for withholding all or part of a security deposit from a tenant.

Best Practices for Withholding a Security Deposit

It’s a common scenario: your tenant pays you a security deposit before moving in, which gives you some peace of mind that the money will pay for certain items or damages when the tenant moves out.

When move-out day arrives, the tenant says they left the unit spotless, but the floor wasn’t even swept. Or worse, there are broken windows, an unidentifiable sticky liquid all over the fridge, and a clogged shower.

…only withhold deposit monies for actual damages, material or financial.

The general rule is that a landlord or manager can only withhold deposit monies for actual damages, material or financial. Meaning, you can deduct money if they owe you past due rent and fees, or caused damages beyond normal wear-and-tear.

State laws vary greatly, but there are generally some statues that regulate the basics such as:

  • whether or not you must put the money into an interest-bearing account,
  • if you can or cannot commingle such deposits with your personal or business accounts
  • what you can or can’t deduct from a tenant’s security deposit
  • the timeframe in which you must return the deposit or supply written notice of why you aren’t returning all or part of it.

Things to Remember:

  1. Always fill out an “Inventory/Condition Checklist” before the tenant moves-in so that there is a baseline for comparison. (Download a Move-in/Move-out Checklist)
  2. Provide the tenant with an itemized receipt of any deductions before returning any money. (Download a Free Deposit Receipt Template)
  3. Take plenty of pictures of the damages and overall condition after each move-out.
  4. Follow your state’s rules and timelines for returning the deposit.

Let’s talk about some basic general rules for deducting and withholding deposits.

Related: How to Handle Security Deposits Properly

Breaking the Lease

You can’t automatically keep a deposit just because your tenant abandons the lease or breaks a rule in it. Again, you must have actual damages to offset your claims against the deposit.

If the tenant leaves you high and dry with unpaid rent, utility bills, late fees, and parking fees, then you could withhold some or all of the deposit to cover the debt. A lease is a contract, and if the tenant breaches it, you can take them to court if they don’t pay.

Practically speaking, unless the debt is multiple thousands of dollars, going to court is often more trouble than it’s worth. Even if you receive a judgment, you still have to collect it from the former tenant. Most landlords opt to keep the security deposit and look for a suitable new tenant.

Abandonment and Unpaid Rent

If the tenant abandons the lease and stops paying rent, you almost certainly will have a claim because it takes a few weeks, if not months, to find a replacement tenant. Your previous tenant would still be responsible for rent during that time, and if he/she didn’t pay, then you could withhold the deposit to offset the unpaid rent, and sue them for any remaining balance.

Note: if you keep a month’s worth of rent from the deposit, but don’t actually have a vacancy that is a month-long, then you would need to give back any overlapping funds.

You can’t “double dip” on the rent! Do the right thing!

Since most security deposits cover only one or two month’s rent, it’s important to start eviction proceedings as soon as possible if the tenant makes no attempt to pay.

If you’re not familiar with the eviction process in your area, hiring an attorney is wise. It’s not okay for the tenant to forego paying the final month’s rent under the assumption you’ll apply the security deposit to it – so don’t use the deposit for last month’s rent.

Related: How to Evict a Tenant – The Eviction Process in 8 Easy Steps

Normal Wear and Tear

Every property suffers some normal wear and tear, and you can’t deduct that basic upkeep from the security deposit. If the tenant cleans regularly, then the landlord is always responsible for normal wear and tear.

The general rule of thumb is that a landlord is not allowed to deduct from the tenant’s security deposit for “normal wear and tear”.

Normal wear and tear typically includes the following:

  • General rug wear
  • Sun-faded wallpaper or paint
  • Nail holes in walls from picture hangings
  • Bathroom mirror desilvering
  • Appliances no longer working, but not due to misuse
  • Warped windows or doors, due to temperature or age
  • Dirty draperies or blinds

Texas, as well as other states, define “normal wear and tear” as:

“…deterioration that results from the intended use of a dwelling…but term does not include deterioration that results from negligence, carelessness, accident or abuse of the premises, equipment or personal property by the tenant, by a member of the tenant’s household or by a guest of the tenant.”

Meaning, if a tenant was simply living in the property the way it was intended, and did not damage anything by means of abuse, negligence, accident, guests, animals, or lack of normal cleaning, then a landlord has no right to any deposit deductions. Since HUD doesn’t have an official list of acceptable deductions, landlords have to go by their state rules (if any exist), personal experience, and their gut feeling.

Property Damage


If your tenant or their guests cause excessive damage to the property, you can use the security deposit toward repair or replacement. Some damage is fairly obvious, such as big holes in the wall or floor, or broken fixtures. Other conditions, not so immediately apparent, are also deductible from the security deposit.

These could include but not limited to:

  • Missing smoke or carbon monoxide detectors
  • Flea extermination, if a pet lived on the premises
  • Broken or missing window blinds
  • Appliances broken due to negligence.
  • Dirt and filth as a result of in adequate clean
  • Any damages caused by lack of common sense or improper use (like sliding down a stair handrail)

Even if you find some excessive damage after the deposit was returned, you can still send an invoice to the tenant. However, the chances of receiving that money is slim to none.



If you have to pick up and dispose of a few minor items after the tenant is gone, that’s not grounds to withhold part of the security deposit. And quite honestly, it’s just not worth the effort to deduct money for a few items. However, if the tenant left junk and trash all over the place, or food rotting in the fridge, that’s a different story.

Many leases specify that a tenant should leave the property in “broom clean condition,” or terms to that effect.

I’ve never really liked this term because a tenant could potentially sweep the apartment, but leave the stove, fridge, and closets a complete mess. Without more specific language in the lease, you’ll eventually regret using the term “broom clean”.

Related: How to Get Your Tenants to Clean Regularly in 5 Easy Steps


Many landlords repaint the interior of the rental property to attract a new tenant. It’s routine and usually performed every few years, so you can’t deduct the costs of hiring a painter or purchasing paint from the security deposit.

However, if the tenant painted the walls some hideous shade or drew “art” on them, the cost of repainting is deductible – but only for the affected rooms. The same holds true if the repainting is necessary because the tenant or guests smoked in the dwelling, causing staining on the walls.

Likewise, if the tenant painted without your permission (lease clause required), you would be able to deduct the cost of a painter and supplies to return the wall to its original color compared to when they moved in. Although, if the paint color is neutral and nicely executed, then you might want to consider thanking your tenant for painting!

Related: Tip #4: Paint Walls a Neutral Color

Provide Receipts

Make sure to document all the necessary repair work to prove your expenses. In most states, such documentation is required above a fairly nominal monetary amount ($126 in California).

If you deducted money and the funds are unsubstantiated, the tenant may take you to small claims court. Many times, the tenant can be awarded 2-3 times the deposit amount if you wrongfully withheld anything.

Related: 7 Tips for Preventing Security Deposit Disputes

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88 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Isadora Lopez

    I have a roommate that was evicted and supposed to leave by the end of December, she got a lawyer to give her till January 14th to vacate. In this time she didn’t pay the power bill for November or the water bill. In addition, she also left on the 3rd of January after we informed the new tenant that she couldn’t move in until the 14 causing us to lose the new tenant. I told her in person and in text to clean her room out the way she found it when she moved in and she would get her security deposit. When she left there was cat litter on the floor, sand, water bottles etc as well as food in the refrigerator and pantry. We still need her to pay the December power bill. Do we have any rights to hold the security deposit of deduct anything?

  • Monica

    Looking for information regarding NYS laws regarding if someone has to break a lease based on domestic violence.

  • Winter

    I’m out of league here. Too much brain power on diaypsl!

  • Lynn

    I hate my life but at least this makes it belbarae.

  • Alicia

    Can a landlord charge more than the security deposit for painting two bedrooms from kids coloring on the walls in the state of Texas? The deposit was 600.00. The landlord is trying to say it’s going to cost 1200.00 to repaint the rooms.

    • Henry

      You let you kids color on the walls ? Why didn’t you clean it off or paint over it before you moved out ?! This is the kind of behavior that makes me not want to rent to people with kids or animals .. 👎

      • barb

        I have a tenant that just got out today, Had to really push them out.Supposed to be out 5 days previously. The damage they have caused, Blinds missing, bar stools broken or missing. Screens ripped or gone, scratched antique doors. filthy rooms with mold in the showers. Didn’t cut the lawn all summer.Need I go on. The worse part is that they don’t see the huge mess. They are mad at me for wanting them gone. How dare I get rid of them. Told them I wanted them gone couple months after they moved in. They did more damage in one year than my family did in 15 years. I am looking to sell my houses after having these renters from hell. Like another renter said when she saw my place. One bad renter can ruin it for every good renter.

        • Kelly

          How do you charge for something like scratched floors and mold in showers?

          I’m new to this. My first tenants moved out and left a frustrating mess.

          Like an oven that was absolutely caked with sludge and grime on all surfaces!

      • Me

        Painting every few years is normal wear and tear. If they lived out their lease in most states you can’t charge for painting crayons or not or nail holes from pictures. You can charge for large obvious holes in walls to be repaired.

        • Chelsea Muller

          Hi! I am looking from the tenant perspective, our master bedroom is very bright highlighter orange, we did a military move and signed the lease with a verbal agreement that I would paint it a neutral myself OR hire someone to paint it a color livable, when we arrived from the opposite side of the country to get our keys, they said the room must stay orange! I’m devastated! It’s not a normal color whatsoever and I’ve been avoiding the room like the plague. Since getting the keys yesterday I’ve attempted to contact the property management who said they would insure we could paint, then left someone to simply say no and hand us keys… my question is.. if it’s effecting my sanity (that bright) what are my options?

      • Verbena

        I have never had kids, just because it worked out that way. Out of all my tenants I only had one who actually did regular cleaning. The rest were PIGS! I can’t believe how many disgustingly dirty, and messy people there are in this world. When I first decided to rent, I thought I would make it all cute, and get beautiful appliances. I’m glad my dad told me not to bother. I get it. People just don’t care. And I don’t believe it’s because it’s a rental…they will be like this when they own too.

    • Lisa

      Seriously, why wouldn’t you just clean up after your kids? If they don’t know well enough to not draw on the walls since they must be young then you know what’s right and wrong, yes? If the landlord says it’s going to cost him $1200 I guess that’s a tough lesson for you.

  • Candy Pannese

    I just moved out on the 1st of March 2017 i haven’t received my refund deposit they keep telling me that they sent it with an itemized document what should I do

    • Me

      They are required to send it via certified mail. Ask them for the receipt number then call the postal carrier. They are probably lying and if they are not the postal service should be able to tell you where it is at.

  • Jessica

    Where do ceiling fans fall in this topic? Can a landlord hold any security deposit for dirty ceiling fans? I did clean them sporadically just forgot at move out.

  • Lakeisha

    I moved out over 45 days ago the house had new tenants days. Im due a 990.00 deposit I received a letter from the landlord saying 750.00 for stained carpet. 120.00 for cleaning and disposal. 50.00 for lawn care. 120.00 for broken dishwasher. 100.00 for torn blind. 200.00 for broken dishwasher. 150.00 for motion light. 150.00 for a broken window. Landlord is lying what can I do?

    • Me

      Take your landlord to small claims court if they don’t have pictures and receipts you could possibly get 2 or 3 times your deposit back. They would also have to pay court costs.

  • Chris

    I provided a new refrigerator to the tenant without warranty. I’m located in CA. It’s been three years and during the check out I noticed the refrigerator body is crack. I got 2 quotes that it is not repairable. Would I be able to deduct it from the security deposit?
    Thank you

  • shayla

    hi I moved into my apartment last year on 7/29/16 our lease ended on 7/31/17 n we have decided to move out because on Thursday 7/27/17 we found bedbugs we have never had any bugs in our lives n so I messaged the landLord rightaway telling her about the bedbugs all she did was buy 2 packs of foggers and 2 cans of spray which we used it did not help so 7/31/17 had messaged her telling her were moving for the safety of our daughter and all the sudden since I told her we were moving then she wanted to leave a voicemail saying she called an exterminator blaming us for them but the ppl upstairs moved out as well it could be frm them it could have came from sitting at docs and someone had them who knows but my ? is can she take our security deposi

  • Jim Reed

    My landlord is charging me for landscaping rock but he isn’t replacing it. He is getting estimates from a long time friend or the replacement of a refrigerator drawer and the cost is $250. to replace it. The refrigerator is 12 years old and he never replaced it I was charged a $85 service charge and a $65 delivery charge and the repairman and landlord admitted that neither one of them have been to the house to see the refrigerator. They are working to replace the refrigerator. Thier was no rock removed by myself nor did I break the drawer. What can I do?

  • theresa colaianni

    Hi Jane,
    Our landlord did our walk thru,We lived there for 6.5 years. She kept 75.00 for “cleaning the fan blades”. We got the rest of our deposit back. 4 days later after her family she moved in, She stopped payment on the check, She said she had to paint the walls and her over 15 year old carpet has a smell. My husband spackeled all the nail holes, because she was suppose to paint and freshen up the place. We took very good care of the home as if it was our own. We lived in sedona az and we only had a swamp cooler. The house also had mold spots show up on ceilings and walls. At the time I would just scrub them. So between the swamp cooler. DO we have any rights to get our deposit back? I feel like she stole from us

  • Sherry

    I am inquiring on security deposit when I was given notice the day after the rent was due notice that they are using the last months rent. The lease agreement states 30 days notice, so I am confused if this is considered ample notice??? The tenants also had a fire in my home. Insurance repaired, but the room is now a different color, different color carpet, etc. There are many things I know I can deduct like the flea infestation, but can I hold if i had to physically paint 9 doors inside and out due to kids writing on the doors and walls? HELP…so glad they are gone. Oh one last thing, they asked that I email them the itemized receipt when I asked for a forwarding address to send certified. Can they do that as well?

  • Liz

    The landlord is trying to keep the security deposit and the lease ended June of 2017. I new lease was requested months ago and there isn’t a current lease signed. Can the landlord keep your security deposit by law in the State of Texas?

  • LIsa

    Our tenants have 4 kids and have lived in the house for 2 years. It was painted and new floors were put in 1 year previous. The walls are very marked up and will need to be painted in many spots. The fridge was not cleaned out and is a complete and disgusting mess. We decided to put the house on the market, so we are gutting the kitchen, ripping out the floors, repainting the whole interior, etc. Our painter was over measuring and asked them not to fill in holes because, unless they are professional painters, they might do it wrong and cause more work and cost to do it correctly.
    So, our renters think that they are not responsible for any damages, because we are remodling anyway. What, if anything, can we withhold?

    • Me

      Only the refrigerator repair or cleaning cost with pictures and receipts. Painting and nail holes are normal wear and tear.

  • Mike

    Our tenant asked to break the lease early after renewing for another 12 month term. They provided the required 90 day notice per the lease, but around 75 days in asked to repeal their request tot erminate early. We wrote an agreement to repeal the early termination and then reactivate the existing lease. Less than two months later, the tenant informed us they were terminating early and leaving the property in 13 days (much less than the 90 days required in the lease). They did pay an early termination fee of one month’s rent; can we keep the security deposit since they breached the lease and didn’t provide the required notice?

  • Naomi

    The day after my tenant moved out I did my move out inspection. The dishwasher started to leak as I ran the rinse cycle. It is only a year old and it was brand new when she moved in. She never informed me off any issues with it. I did notify her of the problem and she said she did not have any issues. I find this odd. I have dice fixed it. Since the dishwasher was not left in the same condition as her move in date, is it ok to deduct the parts to fix it or would this be considered normal wear and tear? Again it is only 1 year old. I’m in Wisconsin.

  • Ilene severson

    A tenant left sheetrock blades in the driveway and some are under snow buildup. They will gradually appear as the snow melts in March. If the new tenant gets a flat tire from one of these am I responsible for the tire repair. Can I withhold a small amount of security deposit until all blades have been uncovered?

  • Gina

    My tenant left a big stain on my new couch. I can see they tried to clean it but the stain is still apparent. May I charge a cleaning fee for this stain?

  • Doug

    My property manager charged me $10 to send my security deposit refund by certified mail. Should I be responsible for paying this? I know it is only $10, but it is the principle. I have never been charged for administrative fees and as a landlord myself have never charged anyone this. They also charged me $210 for marks on the walls (which were already there and documented) which I am disputing. The house was in significantly better condition than the day we moved in and again documented very well. Only thing I don’t mind paying for was to repair holes I created for furniture straps to protect my kids though still not sure if they should be considered “large” holes. They are bigger than nail holes, but not huge holes from abuse.

  • dink

    Hi, we are in CA. There is a limit of $126 for not having to provide receipts to tenant on returning deposit. Does anyone know if this is in total or per deduction? So if I clean the apartment, also remove trash plus and then clean carpets, all myself, does all this have to come under $126 etc.

    Not wanting to fleece my tenant, especially as they might do all this themselves but need to be prepared.

    Any advice on what I should charge for these services if needed? Its only a 1 bed apartment but still going to take some time!! and products

    • Lisa

      It’s in total. If you clean it yourself you have to detail exactly what you did and how many hours it took. Above the $126.

  • louie

    my tenants used command strips and when trying to remove the it ripped the drywall, so they left all the other command strips for me to remove . There were about 2 dozen command strips on glass, fireplace mantel and around the windows. Also when hanging pictures the did not use a conventional nail, they used an anchor then a nail. These holes had to filed then the rooms had to be repainted, and lastly amoung other things, stickers where left on the walls from the children and silly string is on the aluminium siding which I cannot remove. They are suing us because we kept 1200.00 of their 2700 deposit. Was I within my rights to keep the money, I do have pictures and receipts and estimates.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Louie,

      If you were within your rights and have pictures and estimates, then what’s your concern? I didn’t see a question in your comment.

      • Louis

        I just dint understand why they are suing us. So i was seeing if there was another point of view that i am missing.

  • Jean Yeh

    The tenants signed 1 year lease until August 18, they purchased a house with my rental agent 5 month before lease end. Agent and I found a new tenant April 11, agent requested the refund of the prorate rent from 4/11 to 4/30 which the new tenant occupied, I refunded it under the pressure of that agent. Is this reasonable? Are tenants consider as breach of lease?
    Tenants had pet deposit $750 for 3 dogs, the back yard was perfect at the time of their move in. The leaves from the Fall were not cleaned, the yard left bare spots, and grass died. I had landscaper put sods to repair them, weeds and feeds, and seeded, $500+, I have receipts, can I hold these expenses?
    Can I hold the interior painting: $750 labor+paint cost,nail marks,dirty walls?

  • Claudia

    I served my tenant with a 60 day to move notice and she moved out within 15 days after i served her and she didn’t notify me of her early move out til 15 days after I served her that she had moved out. I had to clean the walls that were filthy with yellow sap. Now she is texting me that i better send her the full deposit. Do i have to give her the full deposit even though she didn’t give me notice of moving out before the 60 days.

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