The Common Law

Will I Ever Get My Security Deposit Back?

Will I Ever Get My Security Deposit Back?

It's that time of year again. Summer is when most Austinites change rental units and issues concerning the return of security deposits, such as those addressed in this week's column, become common disputes between landlords and tenants.

My lease says my landlord can't deduct "normal wear and tear" from my security deposit. What does that mean?

Residential leases generally include a clause that allows the tenant to avoid responsibility for damages to the rental property if the damage can be considered "normal or reasonable wear and tear." Texas law defines "normal wear and tear" as deterioration that results from the intended use of a dwelling, including breaking or malfunction due to age or deteriorated condition. Alternatively, "normal wear and tear" does not include deterioration to the rental property that results from negligence, carelessness, accident, or abuse of the premises by the tenant.

From a practical standpoint, this means that the tenant will not be responsible for things that wear out due to normal and expected usage but will be liable for a negligent or careless act that causes damage. For example, a tenant should not be responsible for paying to replace living room carpet that has become worn due to normal traffic. But the same tenant could be responsible for paying to replace the carpet if the tenant caused it unnecessary permanent damage (insert any number of possibilities such as spilling paint on the carpet, tearing the carpet while moving furniture, etc.).

I moved out of my old place six weeks ago, but my old landlord hasn't returned my security deposit yet. How long can she hold on to the security deposit?

Texas law requires a landlord to refund a security deposit to a tenant by the 30th day after the tenant moves out. However, the landlord is not obligated to return a tenant's security deposit until the tenant gives the landlord a written statement of the tenant's forwarding address. In these situations, it can be helpful to send a letter, preferably via certified mail, to the landlord, verifying the tenant's mailing address and informing the landlord that Texas law requires the security deposit to be returned within 30 days.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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