You’ve moved out of your apartment, turned in the keys, and left the unit clean. You didn’t leave holes in the walls. You haven’t broken anything. You’ve given your old landlord your new address, expecting the landlord to mail you a check. Weeks go by and you haven’t heard anything from the former landlord.
The landlord may owe the full rental deposit paid years earlier at the time of move-in. Even more, an Arizona landlord may owe three times the original deposit amount. What steps can a tenant take in this circumstance?
If an Arizona landlord does not return the full rental deposit shortly after the tenant moves out, a tenant can ask the landlord for an explanation. Specifically, the tenant can ask the landlord to itemize everything that the landlord is refusing to pay back. For example, the landlord might withhold a portion of the security deposit to make up for a previous month’s unpaid rent, to pay for repairs, or to pay for cleaning. When conflict arises between landlord and tenant, it’s always best to put things in writing. It’s best to ask for an itemization in a letter, text message, or email – not a phone call.
If the landlord provides a full 100% refund within about 20 days of receiving the tenant’s request, all is good. The landlord has fulfilled their obligation. But if a landlord doesn’t respond within those 20 days, there is a problem. Also, if a landlord provides a partial reimbursement and fails to explain why they are not returning the full amount, there is a problem. In that scenario, a tenant can demand a full refund of the security deposit even if the tenant left behind damages. Even if the landlord had unpaid rent from previous months. In fact, a tenant might also be able to demand three times the unreimbursed deposit amount in these situations. For example, if a landlord refuses to refund any of the deposit and fails to give an itemization within the 20 days, the tenant may be entitled to three times the original deposit amount.
If a landlord responds within 20 days and provides an itemization, the tenant should carefully review the itemization. The tenant can dispute some (or all) of the itemized things within 60 days. What should the tenant look for in the landlord’s itemization? Landlords often claim that they are entitled to retain the deposit for things like replacing carpet in the entire unit or re-painting every wall. Depending on the situation, this might be excessive. For example, a few nail holes on the living room walls does not justify repainting the entire apartment. Also, a landlord cannot deduct for “normal wear and tear.” For more information about what is (and is not) normal wear and tear, read here.
Not all rental deposits are refundable. In Arizona, a landlord can require a non-refundable deposit. A non-refundable deposit means that even if the tenant did not damage anything, the landlord can still keep a certain portion of the deposit. If the landlord has done this, it will say so in the lease. If the lease is unclear about whether a deposit amount is