Security Deposits

3 min read

Security Deposits

What amount can my landlord charge for a security deposit?

A landlord may not charge more than the amount of one month's rent, and it may be charged only once.

Is the landlord required to hold the money in a special account?

The landlord must hold the deposit in an interest bearing account in a financial institution in the District of Columbia. The account must be for the sole purpose of holding security deposits, and they can use the same account for more than one building. If you rent the unit for at least twelve months, the landlord is required to pay you the interest accruing on the security deposit, subject to any lawful deductions. The interest rate is adjusted every six months (on January 1st and July 1st) to the statement savings rate at the bank where the account is held.

After I vacate the unit, how much time does the landlord have before s/he must return the deposit?

S/he has  45 days to either return the deposit with interest due, or notify you in writing of their intention to withhold the deposit and apply it toward the cost of expenses properly incurred.  Interest must be paid only on termination of tenancies of one year or more.

What can the landlord use the deposit for?

In general, a landlord can use a security deposit to make sure the tenant has met his or her obligations under the lease. The landlord is required to state in writing what a deposit can be used for, either in a written lease or in a written receipt for the security deposit.  They can, for example, state that a deposit be used to pay for damage to the rental unit or if the tenant moves out while owing you money for rent.  Red your lease before signing.

The landlord is responsible for paying for repairs to their rental unit, as long as the problems weren't caused by the tenant or the tenant's guests. If the tenant or the tenant's guests damaged the rental unit, even accidentally or by neglect, then the tenant is responsible for paying for the repairs.  The landlord is responsible for paying for normal maintenance and repairing damage that was not caused by the tenant or the tenant's guests.

What happens if the landlord decides to keep some or all of the security deposit?

If the landlord decides to withhold the security deposit to defray the cost of expenses properly incurred, notice must be provided to the tenant in writing, delivered personally or by certified mail.  Within 30 days after giving this notice, the landlord must provide the tenant with an itemized statement of the repairs and other uses to which the monies were applied, with the cost of each item.

What action can the tenant take against the landlord if s/he decides to withhold a security deposit?

The tenant may file a lawsuit, usually in Small Claims Court, to try and compel the landlord to return the proper amount. If the landlord should lose the case, a money judgment may be entered against the landlord in the amount of the security deposit plus any damages.

Can the landlord be penalized for not returning the deposit and/or for failure to provide notice?

If the landlord does not return the deposit or provide the proper notices, and the tenant sues them for the unreturned portion of the deposit, the landlord must prove that the tenant is not entitled to full return of the deposit and interest. The tenant may be entitled to what is called “treble damages”, or triple the actual money owed, if the court finds that the landlord acted in bad faith. The term “bad faith” means any unfounded or dishonest reason for not returning the deposit.  Forgetting to return the deposit, bad judgment, or an honest belief that the landlord acted correctly is not bad faith .

What action can the landlord take to recover for damages to an apartment greater than the amount of the security deposit?

The landlord may file a lawsuit, usually in Small Claims Court, to try and obtain a judgment for the amount of damages that are greater than the amount of the security deposit.

NOTE:  The above is not intended to serve as legal advice.  Please contact the Office of Tenant Advocate at for advice on how to proceed.

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