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Overview of Landlord-Tenant Law and Security Deposits

Landlord-tenant laws govern the rights and liabilities of parties in a landlord-tenant relationship, as well as the transaction that takes place when a commercial or residential property is rented or leased. Landlord-tenant laws involve several different areas of the law, including legal principles of real property, contracts and remedies.

Who is a Landlord and Who is a Tenant?

A “landlord” is an owner of a rental unit, which may be an apartment, house, duplex, condominium, room, commercial office space or building. A landlord may be a person or company.

A “tenant” is a person or company that rents or leases a rental unit from the landlord. During the rental or lease term, the tenant obtains the right to the exclusive use and possession of the rental unit.

Security Deposits as a Common Obligation for Tenants in Most Jurisdictions

All states permit a landlord to require a security deposit from the tenant at the time the lease relationship is formed. The amount a landlord may require differs significantly from state to state and may include up to two months of rent.

Return of Security Deposits

Most states generally allow landlords to keep all or part of a security deposit if the tenant has not maintained the cleanliness or condition of a unit. However, there are regulations that require the landlord to provide notice to the tenant with respect to how much of the security deposit is being withheld. In addition, a landlord may also be required to provide an accounting as to how much is being withheld and for what purpose.

Some jurisdictions have laws that tend to be “tenant-friendly,” while other jurisdictions have laws that may favor landlords under certain circumstances. Several states developed their landlord-tenant laws based on the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act or the Model Residential Landlord-Tenant Code, while other states enacted their own statutes. It is also important to note that in certain circumstances, common law or even federal law may also be applicable.

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