The Common Law

Signed a Lease But Never Moved In. Can I Get My Security Deposit Returned?

Signed a Lease But Never Moved In. Can I Get My Security Deposit Returned?

I signed a lease and gave a security deposit in July so I could move into an apartment in mid-August. In the interim I've lost my job, and now I can't afford the place, so I plan to move into a cheaper place with a roommate. The landlord of the first apartment says she won't return my security deposit. Can I do anything to get my security deposit returned?

You are in a tough spot, especially if the lease you signed has standard language regarding security deposits and reletting. Nonetheless, there are a couple of ways you might be able to recover all or part of your security deposit, so don't give up yet.

One way that might allow you to recover the security deposit is for you to find a replacement tenant who's ready to move into the apartment on the start of the lease date. Remember that a replacement tenant must be acceptable to the landlord, and he or she may have to put down his or her own security deposit. If you can do this, you might get back the entire security deposit, unless a lease provision states otherwise.

On the other hand, if the landlord finds someone to take over the apartment, you will probably only get a small portion of the deposit. You should check your lease to see if there is a provision stating how much the landlord can deduct if she finds a new tenant. Most standard leases refer to this as the "reletting fee." For example, a Texas Apartment Association lease typically awards the landlord 85% of one month's rent for "reletting" the apartment. If the lease doesn't cover this situation, then your landlord is entitled to keep enough money to cover her expenses in finding a new tenant.

Be aware that your biggest worry might not be the security deposit. You could also be responsible for unpaid rent if the landlord can't find anyone to take over the lease to your apartment.

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.mehlaw.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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