Hey! If you’re a renter in Louisiana, it’s the time of year when lots of students are moving out or looking for new apartments. While more than 50% of New Orleanians are renters landlord-tenant law heavily favors landlords, though LaFHAC and other organizations are working to make it harder to be a discriminatory or unfair landlord.
Here’s a helpful guide to knowing your rights and responsibilities when it comes to security deposits.
Just a note: this is a general overview for educational purposes, not legal advice. If you need to talk to a lawyer, you can check in with 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.
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.”
In 2018, with advocacy led by LaFHAC, the Louisiana Legislature passed SB 466. Under this law, if your landlord keeps your security deposit, or part of it, without cause, you are entitled to receive the amount held from you plus either $300 or twice the missing amount, whichever is higher. In order to receive this money, you must make a claim in small claims court.
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.
-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 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.
-Request your security deposit back in writing with a letter—this is called a demand letter—and include a forwarding address.
If you believe that your landlord has wrongfully retained any portion of your security deposit, please call the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center at 504-596-2100 or Southeast Louisiana Legal Services at 504-529-1000.