Security Deposits: What to know if your lease will be ending this summer

Published May 2, 2017

Most off-campus rentals require payment of a security deposit before a tenant moves in.  Under North Carolina law a security deposit is fully refundable if the tenant has paid rent every month and has not damaged the rental property.  Unfortunately, security deposits are not always promptly returned after a tenant moves out.  Here are a few tips to help you get your security deposit back:

  1. Know the security deposit law. 

The North Carolina “Tenant Security Deposit Act” requires landlords to refund a tenant’s security deposit within 30 days of the end of the tenancy (typically the end of the lease period). If the security deposit is not fully refunded, the landlord must provide a written accounting of how the deposit was used. The security deposit can only be used to cover the specific types of costs incurred by the landlord that are listed in the Tenant Security Deposit Act. These include unpaid rent, damage to the rental property caused by the tenant, and the cost of re-renting an apartment after a tenant has breached the lease (in other words, administrative costs incurred by the landlord if a tenant moves out early). The Act expressly states that the security deposit may not be used to cover damages caused by ordinary wear and tear – and that the amount deducted must be based on the actual costs of the landlord.

  1. Document, document, document!

From the time you move into an off-campus apartment, you should document the conditions in the apartment. Documentation may include photographs, notes about any problems (including the date when the problem occurred or was discovered, when a request for repair was made to the landlord, and what was done in response to the request), and copies of any correspondence of other written documents regarding problems or repairs. Requests for repairs should be made to the landlord in writing and should be made as quickly as possible, before the problem gets worse.

  1. Follow the instructions in the lease or landlord’s rules regarding move-out.

Before moving out, you should check the lease and/ or landlord’s written rules to see what is required at the time of move-out. Some landlords include detailed instructions for how the apartment must be cleaned prior to vacating and/ or specific protocols for return of keys, etc. You should be sure the apartment is clean and empty – and take pictures before leaving to document the conditions that exist at the time of move-out.

  1. Act promptly if the security deposit is not fully refunded.

Make sure to provide a mailing address for return of the deposit. If you don't receive the security deposit, or a written accounting of how the deposit was used, within 30 days after moving out, don’t delay in communicating with the landlord about the status of the deposit and requesting that it immediately be refunded. If you have problems or questions about the return of a security deposit, contact the Student Legal Clinic for free, confidential advice!

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