A landlord who keeps part of your deposit must let you know that within those 45 days and include a list of the damages and the cost of repairs.
Landlords can't keep your money to cover normal wear and tear to the property, such as small holes in the wall to hang pictures. But if you kicked a big hole in the wall or your kids created a mural in crayon, your landlord may subtract the cost of the repairs from your deposit.
Break a lease early, and you're responsible for the rent for the rest of the contract. The landlord is expected to make an effort to find a replacement, but you will be responsible for any lost rent while the apartment is vacant or for the cost of advertising for a new tenant.
Even in an eviction, you might get at least some of your deposit back. Often renters are evicted for unpaid rent or damaging the property, Straughn says. But once the landlord recoups losses from the deposit, she says, any remaining balance must be returned to the tenant.
If you think your landlord has violated your rights to your deposit, you can sue for three times the amount.
That's what Eddie Germino did.
He had rented a room in a College Park house while going to graduate school. His lease required a $900 security deposit, twice his monthly rent payment.
Germino says he gave the landlord, KMG Management in Baltimore, 10 days' notice that he was leaving, and the company told him the deposit would be returned within 45 days. When the deposit didn't arrive, Germino worried.
"I didn't have a job and was running low on money," he says.
He complained to the Better Business Bureau and the state's Consumer Protection Division mediation unit, both of which tried unsuccessfully to resolve the dispute.
Germino says KMG told the BBB that he didn't give the 120 days' notice of his intention to move out as required by the lease. Germino concedes that he was unaware of this clause, but adds that his room was rented shortly after he left and that he didn't deserve to lose the entire deposit.
Germino took advantage of free resources to find out how to file a lawsuit on his own, and then sued. He says most people assume it's too expensive and complicated to sue and that they would automatically lose. But Germino says his case is proof that's not true.
KMG never showed up in court, Germino says, and the judge ruled in his favor and awarded triple damages. A few months later, he received a check for $2,700.
KMG declined to comment.
Find out more about tenants' rights in Maryland and resources to help renters at http://www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer/landlords.htm. Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., for example, runs a hot line to answer tenant and landlord questions at 800-487-6007.
Germino found a job as a program analyst and moved to Virginia earlier this year. He's thinking of buying a house and renting the spare rooms to college students.
"I would be a responsible landlord who takes care of his properties and who knows and obeys landlord-tenant law to the letter," he says. "I don't ever want to get on the bad side of a tenant like me."