"I returned the keys when my lease was up, but the landlord has ignored my calls and hasn't returned my security deposit."
"My tenant moved without proper notice, but is demanding the return of his security deposit."
Questions and complaints about security deposits are among the most common. Almost every landlord requires a security deposit, and most tenants are concerned about not getting it all back.
According to Maryland law, a security deposit is money, usually equal to one month's rent, which is taken in advance to protect the landlord from lost rent or physical damage. This includes pet, key and utility deposits. The security deposit cannot exceed two months' rent.
Landlords do not usually allow a tenant to use the security deposit as the last month's rent because landlords would then have no protection against physical damage.
When the tenancy has been properly ended, the landlord has 30 days to send an itemized list of any charges to the security deposit and 45 days from the end of the tenancy to return any balance. Simple interest is due at the rate of 2 percent for every six-month period that the landlord had the security deposit. If the landlord does not return the security deposit and interest properly, the landlord can be sued for up to three times the total amount due.
At the time the tenant gives the security deposit, the landlord should inform the tenant in writing of the tenant's right to be present at a final inspection at the end of the tenancy. If the landlord fails to inform the tenant of this right or fails to send an itemized list of charges to the tenant within 30 days of the end of tenancy, the landlord loses the right to charge the security deposit for any lost rent or physical damage.
The landlord can only charge for physical damage beyond ordinary wear and tear.
Charges have to be reasonable. If cleaning is necessary, the landlord should charge what an average cleaning person would charge. Items such as stoves, refrigerators, carpeting, must be depreciated in determining the amount of any damage.
If a tenant ends the tenancy improperly, the tenant has to request in writing an accounting of the security deposit. The landlord should send an itemized list within 30 days of receiving the request and return any balance within 45 days of the end of the tenancy.
George B. Laurent is executive director of BNI, or Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a private nonprofit group that works to resolve tenant-landlord problems and to eliminate housing discrimination.
Send questions to BNI, 2217 St. Paul St., Baltimore, Md. 21218. Or comment on Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, by calling (410) 783-1800 (268-7736 in Anne Arundel County). Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6171 after you hear the greeting.
For questions about specific tenant-landlord problems, call the BNI staff at (410) 243-6007.