It is no secret that landlords attempt to withhold hefty security deposits from their former tenants when they have no right to do so. Sometimes they give no reason at all, calculating that the tenant writes off the expense instead of pursuing it; other times, the landlord attempts to claim exorbitant repairs or claim that you broke your lease in an attempt to withhold this deposit. The largest victims of this are college students who, at the end of the semester are overwhelmed trying to take finals, move out of an apartment, sell their belongings, and sometimes move across state lines and into a new apartment having to put down a new security deposit, all while dealing with a landlord who has no vested interest in working to get the security deposit fairly analyzed and returned. As we enter the end of the academic school year, we will see an increase in Loyola, Tulane, Xavier, Southern, UNO and Delgado students who are getting deprived of the refund of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars because their landlord refused to return their security deposit and who feel like they have no recourse.
What are the Louisiana Laws regarding When and How your Landlord has to Return your Security Deposit?
The good news is that the Louisiana legislature recognized the tactics that landlords were using to wrongfully withhold security deposits and recognized that it did not make sense for tenants to hire attorneys to fight about a few hundreds of dollars and passed a law to deal with this issue.
In Louisiana, the rules and mechanics governing the return of a lessee’s security deposit is governed by the aptly named Lessee’s Deposit Act. See La. R.S. 9:3251-3254. Broadly stated, a landlord/lessor must return your security deposit to you within one month after the lease ends. In order to accomplish that, the law requires that you must also leave your landlord an address where they can forward the check.
That does not mean that your landlord is required to return your entire deposit. Your landlord/lessor may retain any portion of your deposit reasonably necessary to remedy any default/breach of the lease and/or to fix any unreasonable damage or wear to the property. If your landlord does retain any portion of your deposit for damages, they must send you a written itemized statement explaining the amounts they are withholding and why, and returning the remainder of your deposit within thirty days.
If your landlord does not return your deposit or give you itemization of why they are not returning your deposit within thirty days, the law provides that you may be able to recover damages or a penalty, which would require instituting some type of legal claim. See La. R.S. 9:3252.
What are the Penalties I can Recover if my Landlord Unlawfully Withholds my Security Deposit?
Refusing to return the security deposit for unlawful reasons shall give the tenant or lessee the right to recover any portion of the security deposit wrongfully retained and three hundred dollars or twice the amount of the portion of the security deposit wrongfully retained, whichever is greater, from the landlord. The court also has the right to award costs and attorney’s fees.
What Can I do to Try to get My Deposit Back Before I move out?
Common sense, and a little foresight can go a long ways in getting you your security deposit back. Make sure you complete a walk through upon moving in, take pictures, document any damages or non-working items, and let your landlord know about any damage or problems writing. Similarly, when you move out, make sure to take pictures and videos of the property, showing that you left the property clean and damage free. Make sure you schedule a walk through with your landlord and discuss in detail anything he or she is claiming is damaged and any claims they may have to withhold some of your security deposit. This will give you an opportunity to discuss and fix any of these things before you move out. If the landlord states that nothing is wrong, confirm that in writing - an email is best.
What Do I do if my Landlord simply refuses to return my security deposit?
If you have a true dispute about the return of your security deposit, give us a call. We will not charge you upfront for any consultation and we may write your landlord a legal demand letter if the situation warrants it at no upfront cost to you. What we have found is that oftentimes when your landlord receives a legal letter formally demanding the return of the deposit, they often recognize that they are in the wrong and agree to return the security deposit. If not, we can pursue the recovery of the security deposit and attorney fees and costs in litigation.
We will only collect a fee if you get your money returned.
A recent client stated: “Megan helped me successfully receive my security deposit in full when my landlord failed to return it within 30 days and also failed to give me an itemized statement of deductions. Had it not been for Megan, my landlord would have tried to withhold my entire security deposit for reasonable wear and tear.”
This is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.