Getting your security deposit back
By Richard Senasac, Attorney at Looney & Conrad, P.C.
You have moved out of your old apartment and into a new one or a home. If you are like many renters I know, you are going to have trouble getting your security deposit back. To retain your security deposit, the landlord must by law, take certain steps. The renter must provide the landlord with a forwarding address and the landlord must, within 30 days, return the security deposit less any deductions for damages.
There are things that you can do to make getting your deposit back more likely. First, read the rental agreement. Most leases provide that you must give a certain number of days’ written notice of moving out or lose your deposit. Be sure to carefully follow any requirements in your lease and to document your steps. Note that a requirement that a tenant give advance notice of surrender of the property as a condition for refunding the security deposit is effective only if the requirement is in writing and underline or in bold print. Next, arrange a walk-through with the landlord to reach an agreement as to damages. Normal wear and tear cannot be held against you for the security deposit, only abnormal damage. A worn carpet doesn’t count; an accidental hole in the wall does. Before the landlord leaves, you should have an agreed list of the damages and the cost to be deducted from the deposit. You should take photographs of any damage or wear, especially if there may be a dispute over it.
If the landlord retains any part of the deposit, he must return the rest within 30 days along with an itemized description of all the deductions. The landlord does not have to provide the list if the tenant owes rent and there is no dispute over the amount of rent owed. If the landlord retains any of the deposit in bad faith, Texas Property Code Section 92.109 provided he is liable for $100 and triple the sum withheld, plus attorneys’ fees. If the landlord doesn’t provide a written description and itemized list of damages, he is liable for attorney’s fees and forfeits the right to any of the security deposit. If the landlord fails to do either of these things by the 30th day after the tenant surrenders possession, he is presumed (the court will take it as proven unless contrary evidence is provided) to have acted in bad faith.
If you give your landlord your new address in writing and you do not receive your deposit or an explanation within 30 days of your departure, contact the landlord. If you cannot work the matter out, you may contact an attorney or file suit in JP Court yourself. A savvy landlord will recognize his exposure in court and settle before trial or possibly before the suit is filed. You may also contact the local Better Business Bureau, the local Tenants’ Rights Counsel or even the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Office. If the landlord is a member of the BBB, he may have agreed to mediate or work out such disputes through them.
If you choose to file suit in JP Court, you should familiarize yourself with the Court’s proceedings and requirements through their websites for the requirements of proving that the landlord has violated the Texas Property Code regarding security deposits.