How long can my landlord keep my deposit after I move out?

After you move out it takes a little while to get your security deposit back. This is allowed because it takes a landlord a little while to look at the property and determine if there is anything that needs to be repaired.

But unless they have a claim to make against it, they have to give it back eventually.

The question of how much time there is before the deadline will depend on the laws in your state, which you can Google pretty easily. The good news is that if your landlord missed this deadline, or doesn’t get you a good explanation of why you aren’t getting your money back, including an itemized list and contractor invoices, you are entitled to get your money back under the law.

Even if your state doesn’t have a strict deadline, most of them require the money to be returned within a reasonable amount of time. If it has been a couple of months, this isn’t reasonable any more (even if the landlord has a story about why.)
The good news is, If it’s been too long, or you didn’t get a good reason (and an itemized list) from your landlord, we can help. Our DepositLetter virtual assistant will get your deposit back, especially if that deadline passed.

Do I need to send my demand letter via “certified” mail?

Sending a letter via “certified” mail, or an equivalent, means that the mail carrier will knock on the door and get a signature as evidence of delivery. But it isn’t always the best answer.

In court, it’s nice to have that signature if someone is saying that “I don’t know, I never got your letter.” So, it’s a thing that lawyers, and sometimes the laws, will often say you need to do. “Send it via certified mail.”

On the other hand, because the carrier has to knock and ask for a signature, certified mail is very easy to avoid. You just don’t answer the door, and the postal service can’t stick around forever, they give up after a few tries. (They need to deliver everyone else’s mail too, after all.) When this happens, the letter is just returned to sender, and a few weeks has probably passed. 

So, if it’s more important that you get the demands in your letter to the other person, than it is you have strong evidence of delivery, “certified mail” is not the best way to go. Sometimes it’s a better move to disguise your letter as boring old mail, to make sure it gets seen. 

In fact, this is why Juris DepositLetter works the way it does. We track the delivery process to the last possible moment, to provide updates, and a record… but our letter looks like boring old mail. Because the letter usually works, and you don’t have to go to court, its more important to get the letter through than it is to have a signature.

Should I cash my security deposit check if I still want to dispute the amount?

The answer is: it depends. 

If you simply cash it the landlord may claim you have settled the whole matter by accepting a partial payment. Landlord might even lie and say you orally agreed to accept the payment as settling the claim. 

If you see the words “full and final payment” or “final settlement” or something like that anywhere on the check, definitely don’t cash it. That’s them trying to trick you into signing an endorsement that the whole thing is settled.

Look for something like this before you cash the check. If you see it, don’t cash it.
It might look like this on the back.

It might not look exactly like those pictures, but words like that are what you’re looking for. If it doesn’t say anything like that anywhere on the check, or in any paperwork that came with it, you should still be able to accept the partial payment while notifying the landlord explicitly in writing that more is still owed. (You can do this with our DepositLetter assistant.)

Simplest would be to cash the check and write above your signature on the back “accepted as partial payment of debt owed”. And be sure to take a picture of both side of the check for your records.

It’ll look something like this.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. You have to weigh the money in hand vs. the potential difficulty of getting more. Depending on how little it is, I would put it in the bank.