Security Deposits

Authored By: Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid
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A landlord can only deduct from your security deposit any rent, damages, and other charges for which you are legally liable under the lease agreement.

Your landlord cannot keep your security deposit to cover normal wear and tear of your residence. Normal wear and tear means deterioration or damage that occurs as a result of the normal intended use of the premises, and not due to your negligence, carelessness, accident, or abuse. For example, a landlord cannot withhold part of your security deposit for a carpet that only has signs of normal wear, walls with small nail holes or an incidental fingerprint, or countertops or sinks with small scratches. A landlord may be able to deduct charges for large permanent stains on the carpet and pen marks on the walls caused by you or your guests. Even in these cases, the landlord may not be entitled to replace all of the carpet or paint the entire house at your expense.

Getting a Refund of Your Security Deposit

Your security deposit must be refunded to you within 30 days after you move out of the apartment or house, provided that you give a written forwarding address to your landlord. Your landlord does not have to return your security deposit until 30 days after you provide, in writing, a forwarding address. If your landlord keeps all or part of your security deposit, the landlord must provide you with a refund of the balance of the security deposit, if any, together with a written description and itemized list of all deductions, within 30 days of your move out (or within 30 days of your giving your forwarding address in writing).

A landlord is presumed to have refunded a security deposit or provided you with an itemized description of the security deposit deductions if the refund or itemization is placed in the United States mail and postmarked on or before the thirtieth day.

If a landlord who has the tenant's forwarding address fails either to return the security deposit or to provide a written list of deductions on or before the thirtieth day after the tenant moves out, the landlord is presumed to have acted in bad faith. If your landlord keeps all or part of your security deposit in bad faith, you may sue and recover $100, three times the amount of the security deposit that was wrongfully withheld, plus attorney's fees (if you hire an attorney) and court costs.

If your landlord, in bad faith, fails to provide a written description and itemized list of damages and charges to you for a portion of your security deposit that has been withheld, your landlord has forfeited all rights to withhold any portion of the security deposit or to bring suit against you for damages to the premises.

Tenants who wish to sue for their deposits can do so fairly easily without an attorney in Justice of the Peace Court. In these courts, you can be awarded up to $10,000 plus court costs. You have two years from the date of your landlord wrongfully withholding your security deposit to file such a lawsuit.

Security Deposits: Additional Information

The landlord is required by law to keep accurate records of all security deposits; however, the landlord is not obligated to keep the funds in a separate account. The landlord is also not required to pay interest on the security deposit. The landlord is not required to furnish a description or itemized list of deductions, as described above, if any rent is due and unpaid at the time you move out and there was no dispute that the rent was due. If the lease requires you to give advance notice of termination, you should do so. However, advance notice of termination may not be a condition for a refund of your security deposit unless the requirement of advance notice is underlined or printed in conspicuous, bold print in the lease agreement. Even if you fail to give notice, as specified in the lease, and the provision is signed and underlined, the landlord may have to show how the landlord was damaged by your failure to give advance written notice before keeping the deposit. If the house or apartment is sold or otherwise transferred to a new owner, the new owner is responsible for returning the deposit unless the new owner purchased the property at a foreclosure sale. In the case of a foreclosure sale, the old owner remains responsible for the security deposit unless the new owner gives a written notice to you stating that the new owner is responsible for the deposit.

You must not withhold any portion of the last month's rent on grounds that the security deposit serves as security for the unpaid rent. If you fail to abide by this requirement, you can be liable to the landlord for three times the amount of the rent that was wrongfully withheld and for reasonable attorney's fees.