Security deposits exist to protect landlords against damage to their property or the tenant’s failure to pay rent. When you move from the property, the landlord has an obligation to return the money, if there is no damage to the rental.
Security deposits in Louisiana are governed by the Rent Deposit Return Act. This act requires the landlord to return the security deposit, excepting any amounts necessary to repair unreasonable wear or remedy the tenant’s default. Under this act, landlords have 30 days to return the deposit from written request. Failure to comply with the act subjects the landlord to penalties. These can include a $200 dollar fee, damages, and attorney’s fees.
There is no limit to the amount the landlord may require for a security deposit; however, the landlord may not raise the deposit in ways that are discriminatory. For example, you may not increase the security deposit based on the number of children who will be living on the property.
Before the tenant occupies the property, it is best to document proof of pre-existing damages. The landlord and tenant should both sign a list of pre-existing damages. With this proof of damages, the burden is on the tenant to show that any damages that occurred during the lease were not his or her fault. The landlord should then be prepared to show that the tenant did, in fact, cause the damages.
Paying for repairs is, by far, the most common reason for withholding money from the security deposit. The tenant is not responsible for “reasonable wear and tear,” pre-existing damages, damages that were not his or her fault, or damages the landlord is responsible for repairing. Generally, “reasonable wear and tear” covers damages that occur in the everyday, normal use of property or furniture. Examples include worn carpet, faded paint, or small holes in screen doors. Broken windows, holes in the walls or floor, or trash left in the property are not considered reasonable wear and tear. In the event of a dispute over whether or not damage is reasonable wear and tear, the court will determine what is “reasonable.”
The deposit may be kept to pay for rent due. If the tenant doesn’t move out after the lease expiration date, the landlord is able to claim one month’s rent, on the assumption that the lease has been renewed for another month. It has been found, however, if the tenant occupies the property for less than one week past the expiration date, this does not constitute renewal of the lease. The landlord may also claim an additional month’s rent if the tenant does not return the keys by the renewal date. Courts have found that tenants are not able to recover the deposit if they do not provide adequate notice they were terminating the lease. The tenant should provide notice, in writing, within the time frame described in the lease. If the tenant gives notice they are terminating the lease, but then moves out before the termination date and fails to pay rent for the rest of the lease period, they may be considered to have abandoned the property. In this case, they will not be entitled to a return of the deposit. Keep in mind, if the tenant is served an eviction notice, the landlord is not entitled to rent for the period after the tenant vacates the property.
As landlord, if you withhold any amount of the deposit, you are required to provide an itemized list of the amounts retained within one month after the tenancy ends. This list must include a description of the reasons for each amount retained, plus the amount retained for each. The description of the retained amount should be as specific as possible. Vague descriptions like “$200 retained for repairs…” without further description, may incur penalties. The list should be mailed to the tenant. A verbal description of the deductions will not suffice. Remember: the landlord is liable for a $200 dollar penalty for violating the Rent Deposit Return Act.
The security deposit is the tenant’s property. The burden of proof is on the landlord to show why it is being retained. If a dispute cannot be resolved, the tenant may sue the landlord for the deposit. In this case, the landlord might bring a claim against the tenant for the money owed. At the end of the day, it’s best if both the tenant and the landlord document everything. For example, the tenant should immediately notify the property owner in writing after damages occur during the lease. Careful written documentation insures the security deposit serves its purpose: to protect the investment the owner has made in their property.