Many landlords hold security deposits for property they lease; and Tenants are always concerned with having the deposits returned to them, in full, at the end of the lease. And, any landlord who takes all, or a portion of, a security deposit for their leased property is required to follow a few rules, or face a waiver on their right to recover, and/or pecuniary penalty. This is not an exclusive list of all matters and duties pertaining to a residential security deposit; these are the three most common rules I’ve seen broken in my experience as an attorney, along with their potential penalties, if violated.
The first rule is that a landlord who intends to withhold money from their security deposit is required to provide written notice within 30 days of the termination of the lease, or surrender & acceptance, whichever occurs first. 68 P.S. 250-512(a). The notice must provide an accounting for money withheld, and contain a check for the difference between the alleged damage and deposit.
If notice is not made in that timeframe, then the landlord by law cannot justify withholding the funds, and cannot sue for damages. 68 P.S. 250-512(b).
If returning less than a complete deposit, then you must refund the difference between the original deposit amount and the amount accounted for in the notice within the 30-day time-frame mandated for the notice, discussed in the paragraph above. Often times the refund check is sent along with the notice within 30 days. If this is not done, then the landlord will be liable for double the amount of the escrowed deposit less actual damages that can be substantiated. 68 P.S. 250-512(c).
The last rule is to not embellish, enhance or falsify damages to justify withholding a security deposit. Pennsylvania residential housing leases come within the purview of Pennsylvania’s Consumer Protection Law, 73 P.S. 201-1 et seq. Therefore, if a residential housing situation leads to a landlord committing unfair trade practices as defined by the PA CPL (a/k/a UTPCPL), the tenant could recover an amount, the greater of actual damages or $100.00. Additionally, the court can award treble (3x) the damage and attorney fees.
I have handled landlord and tenant matters for several years, and it is these last kinds of cases that can get interesting. If you think that your landlord falsified damage in order to withhold your security deposit give me a call. If you think that you weren’t given proper notice of damages or haven’t been refunded, give me a call. An initial brief phone consult is always free.