Security deposits are arguably one of the most significant contributors to disputes between landlords and tenants. Unlike many other states, New York does not have an official cap on the maximum amount of security deposit that a landlord can charge. In other words, the amount that a tenant puts down before they move into a place could represent substantially more than a single month’s rent.
Tenants who pay that security deposit likely want that money back, while landlords may need some of those funds to defray the cost of renting out their unit, causing conflict between the two parties. What rules apply to security deposits in New York?
Landlords can only claim a security deposit for specific reasons
A security deposit always remains the possession of a tenant until such a time as a landlord attempts to make a claim against the deposit. When a tenant leaves a unit, the landlord generally has to provide them with written documentation of any claims they intend to make against the security deposit within a reasonable amount of time from the end of their tenancy.
Landlords cannot retain security deposit funds due to general wear and tear in a unit caused by aging. For example, a carpet that has become discolored due to sunlight through the window or years of wear is not the responsibility of the tenant, but staining due to pet messes or burned sections caused by cigarettes would justify retaining some of the security deposit.
In addition to costs to make necessary repairs due to damages caused by the tenant, the landlord can also retain part of the security deposit to cover unpaid rent if the tenant leaves without paying their last month or breaks the lease.
Proper documentation is important for both parties in a rental agreement
Landlords have every right to want the property they rent out returned to them in a reasonable condition, and tenants have the right to not wind up paying for basic maintenance that the landlords must perform.
Tenants and landlords alike can protect themselves by documenting the condition of a rental unit at the time that a tenant takes possession and again when they leave. A written inventory of the condition of different spaces and equipment within the unit is often part of the rental agreement.
Tenants may also want to photograph preexisting damage to the walls and dents in the appliances or holes in the flooring. Landlords should maintain similar records so that when necessary, they can claim damages and tenants can defend against claims for damages they did not cause.