When you lease a New York apartment, your landlord will require you to pay a security deposit. When your lease ends and you vacate the apartment, you’ll want your security deposit back.
Here are answers to commonly asked questions about security deposits for apartments in New York.
Q: Why do landlords collect a security deposit from tenants?
A: New York landlords aren’t required to collect a security deposit, but because it’s in a landlord’s best interest to do so, so it has become common practice. When a landlord leases an apartment in NYC, he will want a security deposit. It’s a way of helping to ensure that the tenant will keep the apartment in good shape, pay the rent, and not suddenly break the lease and disappear, which could mean the tenant doesn’t get the deposit returned.
Q: What’s the most a landlord can request from a tenant as a security deposit?
A: There are basically two main types of rental apartments in New York. Rent regulated, known as rent stabilized, and free-market rentals. Rent stabilized apartments limit the landlord to collecting only one month of rent. Any more than that, and the landlord is in violation of the law. In free market rentals, the landlord is allowed to request any amount they wish. However, the usual amount of security deposit is any amount between one month’s rent and two month’s rent. But more isn’t unheard of, particularly if the renter has significant credit flaws in their credit history.
Q: How long does a landlord have to return a tenant’s security deposit?
A: A reasonable time. What’s reasonable? Not much more time than it takes to re-rent the apartment. But in any case, anything beyond waiting two months is unreasonable. New York makes it clear that tenants needn’t ask for the return of their security deposit to become entitled to it.
Q: Can a landlord legally keep some or all of a tenant’s security deposit?
A: Yes. The tenant’s security deposit can be used to cover back rents well as damages caused by the tenant.
Q: How can a tenant ensure she gets her security deposit back?
A: The tenant should give the landlord a forwarding address for the return of the security deposit. If a tenant doesn’t take this step, the landlord should mail the deposit to the tenant’s last known address, which could be the tenant’s recently vacated apartment, or personally deliver the deposit to the tenant.
Q: What happens if a landlord doesn’t return the deposit on time?
A: The landlord may be liable to pay the tenant the amount of the original security deposit, as well as court and attorney’s fees (up to $2,000).
Q: Is a landlord required to keep security deposits in separate accounts and must deposits earn interest?
A: Landlords are required to keep their tenants’ security deposits in a separate account from their own funds. In addition, if a building contains at least six apartments, the account must bear interest at the prevailing rate, and the landlord must notify tenants as to the account information. As an administrative fee, landlords may deduct up to 1% each year from the interest on the account.
Q: Are there steps a tenant can take to increase the chances of getting all of their security money back?
A: Most leases require you to leave your apartment in “broom clean” condition after your lease term is up and all rents owed must be paid. If you don’t comply with this clause, you risk not getting all of your security deposit back after you move out. For example, your landlord may decide to deduct from your deposit for cleaning charges or for unpaid rent.
Q: What else can be done to ensure that all of the security deposit is returned at the end of a
A: At RDNY.com, we urge new renters to take photos of the condition of the apartment at the time of move-in. In particular, take photos of any damaged appliances, counters, drawers, and fixtures. Also, make a list of the damages. Send a copy of the list of damages and your photos to your landlord by registered mail, return receipt. Keep a copy for yourself, along with the receipt showing delivery of your photos and list to the landlord’s office. This way, you won’t be blamed, and forced to pay, for conditions in the apartment that weren’t of your making.
Q: How clean is broom clean?
A: There’s no universal definition of this term that lays out the specifics, but here’s some guidance:
• Reasonable wear and tear is okay. It’s not time to start making repairs, and it’s probably not your responsibility anyway. Hopefully, unsightly or defective parts of your apartment, such as cracks in the ceiling or damaged window sill moulding, are items that you brought to the landlord’s attention when you moved in.
• Don’t repaint the apartment. Your landlord may give your apartment a fresh coat of paint between your move-out and the next tenant’s move-in. But you don’t need to do this. However, if you’ve painted any of your apartment walls — with or without permission — during your tenancy for decorative purposes, you should paint it back (unless your landlord told you otherwise). At most, you might want to treat some tiny areas with touch-up paint or with products such as the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Although this may not be required, sometimes small aesthetic fixes can contribute greatly to the overall impression of an apartment.
• Remove nails from walls. Inspect your walls to make sure that any nails, hooks, or other devices you’ve used to hang frames and other items are gone. Take the extra step and spackle the area to remove the small holes that remain.
• Put yourself in your landlord’s shoes. Think what would make you satisfied if you were the landlord inspecting the apartment after your tenant moved out. Another strategy is to pretend you’ve been renting the apartment for free from your best friend and you want to leave it looking as presentable as possible for when your friend returns.
• Consider hiring a cleaning service. If you have a person regularly clean your apartment, schedule the last cleaning for a day or two before you move out. If you’ve been handling the cleaning on your own, do a thorough job before you leave for good, or hire a service to help you out this last time.
If you follow these pointers, you should meet your lease’s requirement to get your security deposit back — even if you don’t own a broom.