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Has a landlord wrongfully retained your security deposit?

On Behalf of | Feb 16, 2023 | Real Estate

There is a degree of mutual risk involved in any rental relationship. The landlord has to take a risk when accepting a new tenant, as they might have someone move in who won’t pay their rent on time. There’s also the risk of damage to the unit caused by irresponsible behavior or even undisclosed pets.

The tenant is at risk as well, as the landlord is responsible for maintaining the property and could potentially fail to do so. They also run the risk of their landlord mistreating them during or after their rental agreement has concluded.

Security deposits, which attempt to safeguard the interests of both landlords and tenants, are often a crucial negotiation point when tenants initially sign a lease. Tennessee limits a landlord to charging one month’s rent as a security deposit in most cases. Tenants obviously have an interest in getting those funds back whenever possible. Yet, landlords don’t always act in good faith in this regard. What right do you have if you feel like your landlord has unfairly retained your security deposit?

You can hold them accountable for violating state law

Tennessee code is very clear about security deposit rules. Landlords can only retain security deposits in very specific situations. Typically, there are three situations in which a landlord could keep some or all of a tenant’s security deposit.

The first is when there is significant damage to the unit beyond normal wear and tear. Holes in the walls, burns in the carpet or smoke damage on the ceilings from someone using tobacco in the house could all warrant a landlord retaining the appropriate amount of someone’s security deposit to cover the cost of repairs.

Landlords can also retain security deposit funds when a tenant has fallen behind on their rent or does not pay their last month’s rent before leaving. Finally, landlords can make claims against the security deposit for any fees the tenant should have covered but did not, such as a cleaning fee or a pet fee applied retroactively when a landlord discovers signs of animal damage in the unit.

Regardless of why the landlord wants to keep some of a tenant’s security deposit, they have to provide clear written communication. The tenant should learn why they intend to keep some of the funds and the exact amount they want to retain. Otherwise, they need to return the deposit in full within 30 days.

Tenants who believe their landlords have made fraudulent claims against their security deposit can potentially take them to civil court if necessary. Understanding Tennessee’s real estate laws and how they apply to those in rental homes can help you handle a conflict with your landlord more effectively in the civil courts.