Security Deposits – FAQ

Last updated: November 2, 2009 – 1:47 PM

NOTE: If your landlord lives in your building, see the “Exceptions” note on the right side of this page.

Do I have to tell my landlord I am moving if I have a written lease?
No. Your lease sets forth the date on which it ends, and you are supposed to move on that date unless you and your landlord agree to renew your lease agreement.

What if I do not have a written lease?
If you pay rent on a monthly basis, you must give your landlord 30 days written notice that you are moving out. Otherwise, you can be held liable for another month’s rent. If you pay rent on a weekly basis, you give your landlord 7 days written notice that you are moving. Otherwise, you can be held liable for another week’s rent.

Can I use my security deposit to pay the last month’s rent?
Not unless your landlord agrees to let you do this. If you reach such an agreement with your landlord, make sure you get this agreement in writing. A security deposit is not rent. You may get evicted if you treat it like rent, without your landlord’s written permission.

Is there anything I can do before I move to make sure I get back my security deposit?
Yes. Clean the apartment, repair any damage you caused, and take pictures of the apartment to verify its condition. You should ask the landlord to:

  • Walk through the apartment with you just before you move out; and
  • Sign a statement verifying the condition of the apartment.

What if I move out after the day I am supposed to move?
You may become responsible for an additional month’s rent. For instance, if you are supposed to move on the last day of January, but you don’t actually move until February 2, your landlord may be able to hold you responsible for the February rent.

What if I leave my property behind when I move out?
Your landlord must leave the property in the apartment or store it somewhere safe for 7 days. If the property is not worth the cost of storage, however, he/she can throw it away immediately.

Can I break my lease before it ends?
Only if your landlord agrees to let you out of the lease or violates your rights under the Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance. If You want to break the lease because your landlord has violated your rights, contact an attorney.

What if my landlord doesn’t let me break the lease, but I still move out before the lease ends?
Your landlord must make a good faith effort to re-rent the apartment. If he/she’s unsuccessful, you remain responsible for the rent. If he/she rents it for less than what you were paying, you remain responsible for the difference.

Can I sublet my apartment?
Yes, and your landlord cannot charge you any subletting fees. Furthermore, if your landlord does not let you sublet to a suitable person, you don’t have to pay rent for the period that begins when the subtenant was willing to move in.

What if my subtenant does not pay the rent?
You become responsible for it.

What happens to my security deposit when I Sublet?
The landlord is entitled to hold your security deposit until the end of the lease, so you should either:

  • Ask your landlord to return your deposit and collect a new one from the subtenant; or,
  • Collect a security deposit from the subtenant yourself.

The landlord cannot keep a deposit from both you and the subtenant if the total amount of the deposit exceeds the amount listed on the lease.

What happens if my landlord refuses to return my security deposit?

The Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance states that when a tenant moves out, the landlord has 30 days to give the tenant an itemized list of any repairs or deductions they intend on withholding from the security deposit, including receipts/estimates. The landlord has a total of 45 days to return the remaining amount of the deposit, plus interest. If the landlord does not provide the tenant with a list of deductions within 30 days of vacating the unit, they must return the full deposit amount with 45 days of move-out. If they fail to comply, you can sue the landlord for twice the amount of the deposit, plus courts costs and attorney fees. To request your deposit, use Squared Away Chicago to send your landlord a legal notice. If your landlord still does not return the deposit, contact MTO for an attorney referral.

Please Note:This pamphlet, published by the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago and the Metropolitan Tenants Organization as a public service, gives you only a general idea of your rights and responsibilities under the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance and other relevant chapters of Chicago’s Municipal Code. It is meant to inform, but not to advise. Before enforcing your rights, you may want to seek the advice of an attorney who can analyze the facts of your case and apply the law to these facts.

Still can’t find the answer? Send us your questions. Please allow several days for a response.

All 36 Comments

  1. I also wanted to say I have a report from permits and inspection stating possible mold in the basement which we are highly allergic to and the I believe the landlord sent the money back to the agency in retaliation that I was moving and also part of the security deposit was my own money which I have proof of is this legal

  2. I would like to know in the state of Maryland can a landlord disperse your security deposit to agencies who paid on tenants behalf if the tenant moved because of unhealthy conditions

    1. Law vary widely from state to state regarding how to handle security deposits. My first question is do you have a written lease? What does the lease state? Do you have an agreement with the agency that provided the money? What does it state?

  3. Hello,
    I terminated my lease early due to personal circumstances after renting from the landlord for 2 years and 5 months. We had extended the agreement 1 year after an initial 2 year lease. We gave the landlord 60 days notice and during that 60 days put in hours of time and effort to find a sublet or sign a longer lease per the landlord request. We had brought at least 3 qualified applicants to the landlord but all were turned down because they did not meet the landlords preferences. The landlord still has our security deposit of $7,000 that I would like back. We made a strong effort to find a tenant while the landlord did not make a good faith effort to find one. We feel she has been stringing us along while eating away at our security deposit. Do I have any rights?

    1. Does the landlord live on the premises? If not then you may have a better chance of forcing the landlord’s hand. First what does your lease regarding early termination. If the landlord does not live on the premises, did the landlord pay you interest on the deposit. If not the landlord may be in violation of the security deposit laws and could be held liable for damages of twice the deposit. Have you documented that the landlord has not accepted the sub-tenants. What reasons did the landlord provide? The landlord cannot hold sublettors to a higher standard than what he held you to. Lastly, did the landlord provide you with a summary of the landlord and tenants ordinance. It should be attached to the lease. If the landlord did not then you can terminate the lease and move. If you choose that method, you may lose some of the deposit because you would have to use that from going forward now.

  4. I live in Chicago IL in a building with about 27 units and the landlord does not live on property

    My landlord hired a Management company several years ago and they completely manage the property and Leases and collects Security Deposits for landlord/owner.
    The Management Company told me they were not renewing my lease in the middle of September of 2011 and wanted me to move by October 1 2011. I live on SSDI and did not have the money saved up to move nor was I going to agree since they did not give me thirty days notice of their intent of not renewing my lease. We verbally agreed to a later date in May and verbally renegotiated to end of July 2012. I was not able to actual complete the move until August 2, 2012 and actual returned the key after business hours (about 5: 30pm) but to the management since they were still in the office. I cleaned the apartment and patched holes from hanging pictures and took pictures of good condition I left it in after 11yrs of living there.

    I have Faxed and emailed letters as to forwarding address and requesting the Security Deposit be sent to provided address on August 21, 2012. I have also sent a follow-up letter via certified mail signature required reminding them of previous fax and e-mail sent specifically indicating which apartment was my previous address and to send itemized list of amount to be refunded and requested Security Deposit Refund sent to the forwarding address provided. They have my cell phone number, email address, and forwarding address from my letters. It has now been over 50 days with no return of Security Deposit or Itemized list of charges of repairs

    I have two questions:

    1). Will they be able to charge me a full months rent since I did not move until August 2, 2012 or should I expect to pay prorated expense for those two days?

    2). Should I now sue them for double the deposit and court costs since they have made not attempts to communicate the terms of my Security Deposit Refund.

    Thanks for any help you can provide

    1. 1). Will they be able to charge me a full months rent since I did not move until August 2, 2012 or should I expect to pay prorated expense for those two days?

      Possibly. Did you have an agreement with the landlord that you could move out later and secondly, do you know if any moved in after you left and when they moved in.

      2). Should I now sue them for double the deposit and court costs since they have made not attempts to communicate the terms of my Security Deposit Refund.

      I think that you should consult with an attorney. The other question that may make your case more favorable is did the landlord pay any interest?

  5. I moved out of the apartment that I shared with my girlfriend three months early due to the relationship ending. She has since found a roommate who pays month-to-month for the duration of the lease (it ends 8/31). This change was never officially cleared with the landlord and my name is still on the lease. Am I entitled to my deposit back once the lease has expired?

    1. Yes you are entitled to the return of your security deposit. A question is who is responsible for the return of the deposit. Have you asked your asked your former girl-friend for the money. This would be the simplest way to handle the situation. The landlord does not have any way of knowing who the money actually belongs to. You could ask the landlord to split the money but what happens if the one of the party states that I paid the entire deposit. If could get a bit messy. Was there any damage done to the unit? If so that will have to factored into the calculations. Also did you pay rent for the entire time of your stay? These are things that need to worked out.

      It is important to notify the landlord that you are no longer living there otherwise you could potentially be held responsible for the lease or any damages to the unit.

      1. The split was amicable and the ex and I are still in contact – we both expect to have our respective halves of the deposit returned. The new roommate is also intending to extend the lease another year as of 9/1/12 and has already put down a deposit. There were no damages done to the unit and all rent was paid on time, however, we got into a situation this past winter when I demanded some repairs for non-weatherproof windows that are in violation of city code. Luckily, the mild winter prevented us from taking legal action against the landlord, but I’ve been assuming the worst since – he’s proven himself to be a deadbeat who hides behind his lawyer when confronted.

  6. I moved out of my apartment in Lincoln Square, Chicago, IL a month ago, and received 1/4 of my security deposit back from my landlord. He mailed me an invoice of charges he said he was not going to charge us for. We ended the lease early but had an agreement with him that if him or my roommate and I found a new tenant for the remainder of the lease that we would not be penalized for breaking the lease. I have proof to this agreement in an e-mail.

    Then in the letter he sent he charged us for breaking the lease. He also charged us for ‘repairing holes’ and painting. He also said we took a door off its hinges and put it back on incorrectly, which we never did. He charged us for a broken window that my roommate contacted him to fix months before we moved out, and he charged us for that, even though we previously contacted him and he never did anything about it.

    I’m going to write him a letter denying these claims and ask he give the rest of our security deposit back. Do I return the $100 check he sent me? If that doesn’t work, what else can I do? I don’t think he’s covered under Chicago’s ordinance because we were in a 3-flat with a total of 3 units, one of which, was actually illegal because it was the top floor and there were not two exits, which is required of Chicago residences.

    1. Does your landlord live in one of the units in this 3 flat?

      You say the landlord mailed you an invoice…but said he was not charging you for the things on the invoice? Please clarify. In the RLTO, the LL must send you a invoice for repairs/work done in the unit and that invoice amount is what is legally allowed to be deducted from your security deposit – if those repairs are the result of damage you did. Does the landlord itemize the cost for repairing all those things he claims to have repaired? Also, do you have written documentation that you requested the LL fix that broken window before moving out?

      I would write the landlord a letter. Include a copy of the email where he agreed in writing not to charge you for the early lease termination if you got another tenant to take over the remainder of the lease, which you did. Also include a copy of the email showing that the broken window was not your fault.

      I would not cash the check but there is no need to return it at this time. Simply write in the letter that you do not plan on cashing the check at this time because you believe that it is for the incorrect amount.

  7. I rented an apartment in Humboldt Park. I found out upon moving in that the apartment was infested with roaches. I told my landlord I wanted to terminate the lease because of this. He agreed that that would be fine. We agreed that I would move out at the end of the month, however I never signed a written agreement terminating the lease. All agreements were verbal.

    Upon moving out my landlord has refused to refund my deposit even though I cleaned the apartment thoroughly to the condition in which it was left to me (I documented this with photos). He claimed he was going to make deductions and then send me a remainder. I left him my forwarding address. This was 80 days ago. He sent me nothing, no letter that he wasn’t returning my deposit, or a check for the remaining amount he was willing to refund me despite his promises too. What should me next steps be? Can I sue him for not returning my deposit even if the agreement to terminate the lease was verbal? I am not sure if the apartment is currently being rented to someone else although I assume it is.

    1. I am sorry to hear about this. We always recommend that agreements like the one that you entered into are put in writing. Is there any way to document the agreement or that the apartment was infested with roaches. Does the landlord live on the premises? If not you may be able to get an attorney to help you with this situation. If the apartment is rented I would find out when the new tenant moved in. Has the landlord sent you anything in writing?

  8. I saw an apartment in Lakeview and gave the landlord an application fee and security deposit. Landlord verbally agreed to fully clean apartment, rekey locks, and repair a broken kitchen appliance which she disclosed to me. When I met landlord to sign lease on the first day I was to move in, the apartment was still dirty with cobwebs and appliances still broken and there was a broken window. I had my furniture movers with me and felt I should note these issues on lease for her to fix soon. A week later landlord stated she had no intention of rekeying or fixing anything and to take apartment as is or Imove out and she would give me deposit back because she said I was being difficult and she wanted to break the lease and get rid of me. The feeling was mutual. I moved out the next day. It has been 65 days since I requested the security deposit to be returned. She does not answer my written requests. I believe she rented the apartment immediately. Am I entitled to the security deposit and remainder of rent I paid?

    1. It is always best to get any agreements in writing. So your position would be better if you and the landlord would have a written agreement about terminating the lease. As for getting your deposit returned and the rent there are several items to look at. What did you put in writing to the landlord regarding the conditions of the unit. When did the new tenants move into the unit. Is there any other way to document the agreement. You may want to contact an attorney to help you through this.

  9. I moved out of an owner-occupied, 4 unit building in Logan Square on January 15th, my lease ended January 20th. My roommate and I cleaned the apartment thoroughly the day we moved out and made sure that we left no damage. It has been over 30 days and we have not received the deposit. I understand that owner-occupied buildings with less than 6 units are not covered under the Chicago ordinance… Do we have any rights then? I read on another post you suggested calling my alderman to complain? Doesn’t seem like this would solve much….

    1. The landlord still needs to return the deposit in a timely fashion. A good way to start may be send the landlord a letter stating that you want your deposit. According to the Chicago Ordinance you must return the deposit within 45 days. Then see how the landlord responds. You can always sue the landlord for the return of the deposit and it will be what you have to do if the landlord refuses to return the deposit.

  10. We notified the landlord in early November that we would be moving out by December 1st. We told him we understood we would be liable for rent if the apartment was not rented by the time we left. He found tenants who moved in on December 3rd. We requested our $2650 deposit back less the prorated rent amount for the first 2 days of December. He notified us that we would not receive any of our deposit back as he used a rental agency to rent the place and had to pay them one month’s rent. Also he allowed the new tenants to only pay half the rent in December. Although he is not charging us he also cites costs incurred in cleaning and painting the apartment. We have offered to cover the half month’s rent in December but would like the rest of our deposit back. Under the Chicago Landlord and Tenant Ordinance it seems that the only thing we are liable for is any difference in rent for the period of our lease and any damage to the apartment. He has not cited any damage- just painting and cleaning costs. Are we liable for the rental agency fee ($1800)?

    1. That is an interesting question. It will need some research as generally the landlord is able to charge the tenant for the cost of re-renting though if they were going to use that service anyway is that a cost they can charge to you. When you moved in did the landlord use a rental service.

  11. My landlord took more than 45 days to return my security deposit, and when he finally did, he did not include any interest. Should I wait to deposit the initial check until the rest is settled?

    1. There is no clear answer to this question. Some judges may consider that by cashing the check you are waiving your right to pursue claims under the Chicago Ordinance. In at least one case an appeals court judge overturned waiver. Though this means going to court for a while and higher costs. If you can wait to cash the check, it would be best to do that and to contact an attorney immediately to pursue legal action because if you are covered by Chicago Landlord and Tenants Ordinance then the landlord is in violation of the law and could be held liable for twice the damages plus legal fees.

  12. I would like to break my lease and move out of my apartment because my mother lives in Greenville MS and is going to have major surgery. She’s and elderly women and i need to go and stay with her to help her. I explain this to my landlord and she said ok i would just have to give her my 30 day notice. My question is, would i get my deposit back and is she obligated to return it??

    1. Did you talk with the owner about the return of your deposit. If not then I would. What does your lease state regarding early termination? In most cases the landlord will be only be obligated to return the deposit if you leave the unit in good condition and the landlord gave you written permission to terminate the lease or if the unit is re-rented. There may be other ways to terminate the lease legally. You may want to call MTO’s tenants rights hotline to learn about those cases. 773-292-4988

  13. I fulfilled my 12 month lease on april 30th, 2010 as stated in the lease agreement. It is now July 19th and I have not received my security deposit. I had called the landlord 45 days after moving out to ask about the security deposit. He said he would call me back. I have not heard anything back from the landlord since, despite repeated phone calls and voicemail messages I left on his phone. What can I do to get my security deposit? I know that the landlord also lives in the building I had rented. Should I try and confront him in person? Is there any legal action I can take? Are their any lawyers that specialize in this type of issue?

    1. I would contact an attorney though you may not be covered by the Chicago ordinance. Owner occupied buildings of 6 units or less are not covered. If you cannot find an attorney to take the case you can go to small claims court. The landlord should have returned your deposit by now. We believe that the Chicago ordinance should cover all tenants regardless of size so you might want to call your alderman and complain that your rights are limited because you live in an owner occupied building.

  14. My lease is officially up on 5/31/10, and I moved out 10 days early to move into a new place and have time to repair and clean the old apartment. When I called the landlord to discuss a walk through and key return, they said they have already cleaned the apartment and the new tenant moved in. I went today to return keys, and the landlord is charging me for some repairs (taking it out of the security deposit) and did not return money for the days the new tenant has occupied the apartment. Is there anything that can be done about that? Also, the landlord did not return interest on the security deposit, but I would like to know what the IL interest rate is on security deposits so I can request that be returned to me as well.

    1. Because different cities have different laws and the State of Illinois has limited laws regarding tenants rights I would need to know what city you live in to really help as well as how many units are in the building. Certainly if the landlord rented the unit out before the end of your lease, you should be compensated for that time. You can make an argument that since you were still officially a tenant that the owner should have given you some sort of notice before entering the unit and making any repairs. As for the interest rate in the State of Illinois if you lived in a building of 25 or more units it was .25%.

  15. I moved out of my apartment on Jan 31, 2010 relocating to AZ. The office manager was suppose to stop by and do a walk through of the apartment-we discussed this at least a week prior. She never showed and instead sent me an email saying to just leave the keys on the counter. Because I was on a time schedule since I was driving the moving truck to AZ, that’s what I did. 3 days later I returned to Chicago to finish up some last minute things before flying back out to AZ. I spoke to the office manager that day and asked her about the apartment, if everything looked ok, where there any issues so that I would be aware and could take care of anything while I was there. She said everything was fine. I returned to AZ; about 2 weeks later I emailed her regarding my deposit refund, she said she would send it out the following week. She never mentioned ANYTHING else. 2 weeks later(33 days after I moved out), I got a letter from them in the mail with a statement of charges totaling over $1900 in “repairs” butno receipts. A lot of the charges are from normal wear and tear, such as touching up the paint on some of the walls, etc. The apartment was brand new when I moved in and in the letter she stated that I received the apartment in “perfect condition”, which is true, but that’s becasue it was new. They could not possibly think that it was going to be returned to them in the same way- I lived in it for 15 months with my infant child-it’s no longer brand new, but it was in great condition. What do I do in this situation? I feel that they are trying to take advantage of me.

    1. Our Tenants Rights Hotline (773-292-4988) is better equipped to answer questions of the is nature. The landlord has to provide you with receipts. They have 60 days from the end of the lease to do so. You may want to wait until that time period is over before taking any action. Certainly, I would think that repainting is normal wear and tear unless you or a family member caused damage such as a hole in the wall or severe marks. As a renter you are required to return the unit to its original condition minus normal wear and tear. Did you take any pictures of the apartment after you left? Pictures could help document your case.

  16. I recently moved out of a rental home after 1.5 years. I didn’t break a lease and gave proper notice. My landlady said she is taking the cost of repainting the house out of my security deposit, but I think this should be considered normal wear & tear. There are no damages or big holes in the walls. Also, when is she required to return my deposit by? It’s been over 2 weeks and she keeps saying she’s busy and asks me to call her back in a few days.

    1. That is a good question and one better handled on our tenants rights hotline 773-292-4988 as more information is needed to completely answer your question. If you live in Chicago and the owner does not live on the premises then unless you caused significant damage to the walls repainting the unit should be normal wear and tear. As for returning the deposit the Chicago Ordinance allows landlords 45 days to return the deposit.

  17. I received a deposit from a tenant and a week before the move in (2/1) date she decides she doesn’t want to move at all. Do i have to return the full deposit? A lease was provided to her, but the agreement was she would read it over with spouse and return the signed copy with her first month’s rent on move-in date. What do i do? Return full deposit or just the difference (if apartment is rented within the next couple of weeks)?

    1. Without seeing all the documents it is difficult to answer this question. First because the tenant did not sign a lease they are not obligated to move in so you cannot keep the deposit for failing to fulfill the lease. When the tenant put down the deposit was there any agreement signed and what did that agreement say? Did it allow you to withhold any portion of the deposit. If there is no written agreement, then what grounds are you going to keep the money. If you do not live on the premises you may be opening yourself to penalties and attorney fees under the landlord and tenants ordinance so i would be cautious. Certainly I would advise you to talk with an attorney before proceeding.

  18. My roommates had me sign an illegal lease (unbeknownst to me) that I did not find out about the condo management/association came and chased my movers out (which subsequently scratched the floor forcing my belongings in). Now I am moving out of this situation and I want to know if a) am I obligated to fix the floor? and b)If so, am I obligated to pay for it in excess of my security deposit?

    The contractor has said that it is illegal to fix the floor without approval of the property owner and the condo owner but since I’m not supposed to live there in the first place…

    1. This question would be best answered by calling our hotline see the number below. In general tenants are responsible for the damage caused by themselves or their guests. You stated that the lease was illegal. You should be compensated for that. I do know who created the illegal lease and if in fact it is illegal. As to hiring someone to fix the floor, if the contractor is just going to return the floor to its original condition, I am not sure that you would have to get permission. Though there may be some condo laws that override lease rules. In most cases this you need permission to alter the unit.

      John Bartlett

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