How to Get Your Entire Security Deposit Back in New York
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How to Get Your Entire Security Deposit Back in New York

Rachel Bell
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Fun fact: 80% of moves in the United States take place between April and September, a.k.a. peak moving season. Which means, statistically speaking, there’s a good chance you’re moving apartments in the next week.

Another fun fact: Moving costs money. Getting your entire security deposit back can pad your bank account and make it easier to pimp out your new home with stuff you didn’t realize you needed. Thanks to some sweeping rent reforms that went into effect this summer in New York, it’s now much easier for renters to ensure they won’t lose any of their deposit because of damages to the unit.

Avoid last-minute surprises by scheduling a walkthrough.

As tenant in New York, you’re now legally empowered to ask your landlord to inspect your apartment (with you present) at the end of any lease. After the walkthrough, they have to let you know if anything needs to be cleaned or repaired in order for you to get your entire security deposit back. You’ll get a chance to fix those issues yourself before you move out—instead of being forced to pay a huge carpet cleaning fee just as you’re getting settled in your new place.

Your landlord now has 14 days to return your deposit.

Until recently, New York landlords could pretty much return security deposits to departing tenants whenever they wanted (except in rent-stabilized units, where the law simply said that a deposit had to be returned in a “reasonable” timeframe). Now, your landlord has a strict 14-day period during which they must return your deposit. And, if they end up withholding any money from your deposit, your landlord has to give you a detailed, itemized list that explains why they made each deduction.

If your landlord doesn’t return your deposit within the 14-day window—along with the list of itemized deductions (if applicable)—then they lose the right to keep any of your money. They are required by law to give you your entire original security deposit back.

Understand what counts as “normal” wear and tear.

If you receive one of those itemized lists from your landlord, know that they can only charge you for damages that exceed “normal wear and tear.” This is one housing law term that actually means what it sounds like (unlike quiet enjoyment, which is just unnecessarily misleading). Normal wear and tear is when the condition of stuff in your unit, like the carpet or blinds, declines in a typical and expected way. It has to happen naturally—it can’t be caused by you abusing or neglecting the place. The easiest way to determine if something is normal wear and tear is by asking yourself: “Did I cause this by doing something I shouldn’t have, or by not doing something I should have?”

If you’re moving out of a place this week, you’re probably also moving in to a new one. There’s good news for you there, too, since security deposits in New York are now limited to one month’s rent. Keep in mind that you also have a right to a walkthrough inspection with your landlord at the beginning of a lease—and doing that on the front end can save you trouble in a year when it comes time to get that deposit back.

For more New York laws about security deposits, head over to Learn, where we break down everything there is to know about renting and subletting an apartment.