Having trouble getting your security deposit back?
In 2018, the Louisiana Legislature passed a new law that raised the penalty for landlords who keep security deposits without good reason. The law increased the amount a tenant can receive if they win their case to three times the amount of the stolen deposit. For example, if a landlord refuses to return $800 of a security deposit, even though the tenant left the unit in good condition, the tenant could file a suit in small claims court. The tenant could win back the original $800 that was wrongfully withheld, plus twice that amount (or $1,600, for a total of $2,400 in this case).
Despite this law, we know that many tenants are still not getting their deposits back. What should you do if this happens to you? Southeast Louisiana Legal Services has a self-help resource you can use to help get your deposit back. You can download it here. They recommend that you take the following three steps:
- Mail a demand letter to your landlord. The packet includes a sample you can use and instructions.
- Wait at least 30 days for a written response. By law, your landlord has 30 days to respond.
- If your landlord does not respond or you disagree with their response, then you may file a lawsuit against the landlord. The packet also includes detailed instructions about how to do this, including options you have if you can’t afford court fees.
Just a note: this is a general information for educational purposes, not legal advice. If you need to talk to a lawyer, you can call Southeast Louisiana Legal Services at 844-244-7871 or visit them at https://slls.org/. If you believe you or someone you know has been discriminated against in their housing search or by a landlord, you can call the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center at 877-445-2100.
Have more questions about security deposits? Below is some more information and tips:
Security Deposit Basics
A security deposit is money that you give your landlord as required by your lease. The money is meant to cover any repairs needed after you move out of the apartment. If you haven’t damaged the apartment more than “normal wear and tear,” you are owed the deposit back when you leave.
When you move out of an apartment, if you’ve given sufficient notice, your landlord is required to, within 30 days, provide you with either:
- Your security deposit back in full
- A portion of your security deposit, plus an itemized list of what repairs the missing portion was spent on.
- An itemized list of what repairs the full deposit was spent on.
You are responsible for repairing:
- Anything the lease says you are. Generally, what the lease says goes, except if parts of the lease are unenforceable due to being against the law.
- Anything beyond “normal wear and tear.”
Security Deposits Best Practices
There are some steps you can take to prevent issues coming up with your security deposit, both when you move in and when you move out.
When Moving In
- Avoid paying for your security deposit with cash—it’s much easier to demonstrate that you paid it if you use a check or get a money order. Make sure you get a receipt.
- Keep your security deposit receipt when you move in. Make sure to snap a picture of it and email it to yourself to avoid losing it if the piece of paper goes missing or your phone breaks.
- Take pictures of the apartment as soon as you move in. Make sure to get images of anything that seems broken, chipped, or discolored, as well as a wraparound view of each room, ceiling, and floor. You can get really serious about this and take pictures of the inside of the oven or other details if you want. There are also multiple options for apps you can download to your phone which will add date stamps to photos, which might be able to help you show later on that damage was pre-existing.
- Make a list of everything in the apartment that is damaged or discolored, and ideally get your landlord to sign and date it. Many larger property management firms do this automatically. Keep track of this list.
- Read your lease and make a note of when rent is due, how much notice you have to give to move out, and any other important details.
- Communicate with your landlord in writing whenever possible, so there’s a record of things like requests for repairs. The easiest and best way to do this is often via text message. Make sure to save copies in case your phone breaks or gets lost.
- Pay rent on time and get receipts. If there needs to be any change to when or how you pay rent, make sure to communicate with your landlord about that as soon as possible.
When Moving Out
- When you move out, make sure to take photos in the same way you did when you moved in.
- Give proper notice before moving. If you break your lease, the landlord may be able to keep your security deposit. Make sure to read your lease to see when you would need to give notice.