Tag Archives: Rental Properties

How to Get Your Security Deposit Back

9 Oct

Metro®Boston, Publication Date: October 09, 2012
Expanded content

By Attorney George Warshaw

Has it been more than 30 days since your tenancy ended?

If, like the vast majority of rentals, your tenancy ends on August 31st, then, under state law your landlord has until October 1st to return your security deposit.

While the law on security deposits is tricky, and you must consult a lawyer for your specific situation, here are some of the basics:

If a landlord, without right, fails to return a security deposit within 30 days after your tenancy ends (presuming you left on time), the landlord is typically liable for 3 times the amount that was not returned.

If a landlord attempts to deduct for damage to the apartment you must be sent a letter by October 1st (the 30 days period) listing the damage to the apartment and the repair costs together with any receipts.

The letter – and this is the key – must be signed by the landlord under the “penalties of perjury.” If the letter does not contain those magic words above the landlord’s signature, the landlord cannot deduct for damage to the apartment.

Can the landlord charge a move out fee or the cost to clean the apartment? You may be surprised by the answer.


The security deposit law, chapter 186, section 15B, is very clear. A landlord can deduct for unpaid rent, water (but only if it is separately metered and you legally agreed to pay it), increases in real estate taxes (but only if you agreed to pay any increase that occurs during your tenancy) and damage to the apartment for which you are responsible – that’s it!

Just because an apartment is damaged in the landlord’s view, it does not mean that the repair cost can be deducted from the tenant’s security deposit. The tenant has to be legally responsible for the damage.


The tenant is not responsible for reasonable wear and tear that occurs during the use of the apartment or conditions that existed at the initial rental of the premises.

Cleaning costs are not a repair and a landlord may not deduct the cost to clean an apartment from a security deposit.

Move-out fees cannot be deducted. Some condominium buildings charge the owner of a condo a move-in fee and a move-out fee. Landlords, quite naturally, try to pass that cost along to their tenants. Under the security deposit statute, a landlord can’t charge a move-in fee at the inception of the tenancy, and can’t deduct a move-out fee from the tenant’s security deposit.


It is a good idea before or shortly after moving to give your landlord a forwarding address where to return your security deposit. That will eliminate the excuse of “I didn’t know where to send it.”

If you have not received your security back within the 30-day period, you have several choices. You can certainly write to your landlord and request that it be sent immediately. That’s a nice and courteous thing to do. Courts appreciate it.

The law, however, does not require that you send your landlord a letter or wait more than 30 days from the end of your tenancy to take action.

  • You can file a small claims lawsuit and seek triple damages.
  • You can hire a lawyer to file a lawsuit on your behalf.

Many law firms, like ours, do not charge a tenant a fee for pursuing a security deposit claim. The law requires a landlord pay the tenant’s legal fees in a successful security deposit claim. A court then decides what a fair and proper fee is.


If you need answers to your security deposit questions or help in getting your security deposit back, email me at george.warshaw@warshawlaw.com. We routinely represent tenants with security deposit problems and answer questions without charge. ©2012 George Warshaw.

George Warshaw is a Massachusetts attorney and the author of a legal text, Massachusetts Landlord-Tenant Law, Lexis Law Publishing, now in its second edition.


Legal Advice: Laws, and court decisions interpreting them, change frequently. The content and information contained in this article is neither intended as legal advice nor shall establish an attorney-client relationship. Before making any legal decision, consult an attorney to see how the foregoing may apply to your particular circumstances.