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Is my landlord obligated to return my security deposit?

Landlords request security deposits from their tenants to cover any damage to the property or unexpected expenses after the lease is up. Upon moving out, New Jersey law stipulates that landlords must return the security deposit within one month after the tenant moves. However, landlords may be obligated to return the deposit sooner depending on the circumstances. If the unit was damaged by fire or flood, or condemned, your landlord must return the deposit in five days. And if you were forced to end your lease because of domestic violence, the landlord is obligated to provide the deposit within 15 days.

In some situations, your landlord is allowed to keep your deposit. If you failed to remit rent payments or damaged the unit in a manner that does not fall into the scope of expected wear and tear, the landlord is not obligated to return the deposit. However, the landlord must provide a list of reasons explaining why all or a portion of the deposit is being withheld within one month. Taking the following steps will improve your chance of receiving your full deposit once your lease has ended.

Make sure you understand the terms of the lease

What you consider normal wear and tear might be outside the terms of the lease. Make sure you understand your landlord’s expectations by reading the lease and fully comprehending its contents. If there is something you do not understand, ask your landlord for clarification.

Clean the unit before leaving

You are not legally obligated to clean the rental unit before leaving, but it is a good idea to do so. First, it will ensure that your landlord provides a good reference in the future. And second, it will prevent claims that the unit was not cared for or damaged in some way.

Take pictures of the unit for your record

In the event your landlord claims you caused damage when you did not, photographic evidence is best. Under ideal circumstances, you should have pictures of the unit when you first arrived and when you left for comparison, but if you do not, taking pictures after the clean-up and move out process is still beneficial.