NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—As many rental communities in New Brunswick turn over to new residents during the summer, vacating renters are hoping to receive their security deposits back from their landlords.
It is important for both tenants and landlords to know their responsibilities for dealing with the security deposit under New Jersey state law.
Security deposits are funds collected by landlords at the beginning of the rental period to be held for the duration of the lease. New Jersey law states that the deposit cannot equal more than a one and a half month’s worth of rent.
Once collected, the landlord has 30 days to place the security deposit in an interest bearing account that is separate from his personal funds and must inform the tenants of where the money is held.
Accrued interest can either be paid to the tenant annually or used as a credit towards rent.
Money can be deducted from the security deposit to repair property damages beyond normal wear and tear.
Steven Boda, an attorney with Rutgers Legal Services told New Brunswick Today, “The most important thing the tenant can do to make sure they get their deposit back is to turn the property back to the landlord in the same condition it was at the start of your lease.”
For this reason, it is advisable for landlords and tenants to document the condition of the living space by taking photographs of the property at the start and end of the rental period.
Even the best of tenants can encounter some repairs or damages beyond their control. Not addressing those issues with the landlord swiftly could mean the tenant will be held responsible for repair at the end of the lease.
Communicating immediately about anything that might affect your security deposit and keeping verifiable written records of it is the best way to ensure that you won’t have to give up much, if any, money at the end of your lease.
Daniel Axelrod discovered some broken plumbing in his New Brunswick rental home years ago and knew that while he wasn’t the one that did the damage, he would be held accountable if he did not report the issue to his landlord.
Axelrod sent certified letters to the landlord, but when he heard no response, he contacted the town’s zoning and health department to document the damage.
When he took his landlord to court for not providing a habitable environment and not returning the security deposit, Axelrod said, “The landlord tried to blame us for water damage in the apartment that was beyond our control. What saved us was documenting our requests for repair with certified letters and contacting the health and zoning department.”
Aside from major issues like broken plumbing, any renter knows that it is impossible to maintain a home without a little “wear and tear.”
Truth in Renting, a free booklet issued by the State of New Jersey about the responsibilities and rights of tenants and landlords states that landlords are only able to hold tenants responsible for damages beyond what is considered reasonable stress on the property.
Boda explains it like this: “Wear and tear means small wear on a carpet or maybe even a small stain. If the carpet is pulled up because of your pet, a landlord will likely consider that extensive damage.”
It’s not just physical damages that may cost you at the end of your lease.
Leaving garbage or unwanted furniture in the house or failing to clean the inside and outside areas of a property adequately could mean getting stuck with the bill for trash removal or cleaning services.
However, a landlord cannot use a security deposit to charge fees for breaking the rules of the lease, like keeping a pet or having too many people live there, but these things could warrant an eviction.
Bills, tickets for housing and property maintenance violations, or unpaid rent can only be deducted if balances remain after moving out.
Some tenants may ask their landlords to pay the last month of rent with the security deposit, but it is advisable to put such an agreement in writing before assuming your landlord will automatically apply the money in that way.
When the lease agreement ends, New Jersey law is clear that landlords have 30 days to return the funds either by personal delivery or by certified mail.
If a landlord fails to do so before 30 days have passed, tenants can sue for double the amount owed.
Tenants must be provided with an itemized list of any deductions the landlord takes from the deposit.
Boda said that “if the tenant disputes the damage the landlord lists, the tenant can request documentation of an estimate or the receipts from the repair.”
If the property is damaged in such a way that more money is needed for repairs than what was collected in the security deposit, landlords have the right to sue for the difference.
Boda reminds that for any dispute about security deposits or otherwise, that the best thing to do is to contact the landlord or tenants to talk about it.
“The ultimate remedy is the court if you can’t work it out.”
While Axelrod was not able to settle his dispute without taking the landlord to court, his documentation helped to earn him a victory over his landlord.
Keeping a positive relationship and always communicating openly with your landlord is the best way to ensure that a security deposit will be returned in its entirety.