Understanding Security Deposits


Even if you’re a long-time renter, you may not realize that security deposits are not all the same. 

We know that a rental security deposit is intended to cover the cost of damages a tenant may make to the property beyond normal wear and tear. It also provides security to the landlord that the tenant won’t abuse the property and leave the homeowner to pay for repair. But what you may not know is that when you PCS state to state, the laws associated with rental security deposits change. 

How much can a landlord can require for a deposit?

The law referring to how much a landlord can charge varies from state to state. To give you a better understanding, let’s compare a few different states around the country. 

New YorkNew York does not have a law limiting how much a landlord can require in security deposit. That’s right, there’s no statutory limit as to how much a landlord can charge. However, tenants located in or near cities should check with their local government sites to see if they have a cap on deposits. 

MissouriMissouri law states that landlords can require up to two months’ rent for a security deposit. 

California. The state of California gets a little more specific when it comes to landlord/tenant laws. A landlord is allowed to require up to two months’ rent for an unfurnished rental property, three months’ rent for a furnished, and an additional half-month’s rent if the tenant has a waterbed. 

Additionally, landlords may not charge non-refundable fees in California. 

Deadline for a Landlord to Return Your Security Deposit

You probably hope to receive your deposit return quickly, but did you know that many states legally require a landlord to return a tenant’s deposit within a specific number of days? 

New York. The state isn’t clear about when a landlord must return a tenant’s deposit. The law simply says that it should be returned in a "reasonable amount of time," which isn’t defined clearly but assumes 21 to 45 days. 

Missouri. In the state of Missouri, the landlord must return a tenant’s deposit within 30 days of when they moved out of the property. 

California. California requires the landlord to return the deposit with an itemized list of deductions within 21 days of the tenant’s return of keys and move from the property.  

Itemization of Deposit Return 

Each of the three states we used as an example require that the landlord provide the tenant with an itemization of the deposit returned to the tenant, to include how much of it was applied back to rent, cleaning, or damages. However, California specifically states that the landlord inform the tenant before spending any money on cleaning or repairs. 

Although there are laws established to protect your deposit, always conduct a thorough inspection prior to and after renting. Be sure to communicate clearly with the landlord and make note of any imperfections or damages to the home prior to move in to ensure you don’t pay for a previous tenant’s mistake. 

For more information on landlord-tenant laws, visit and check with your local municipality for more specific laws for your location. 

By Danielle Keech