Why is getting security deposits back such a pain? Openigloo has received thousands of reviews from renters complaining that they had to fight tooth and nail to get their security deposit back. It shouldn't take months and hundreds of emails to get money back that belongs to you.
While 70% of openigloo users have reported getting their security deposits back, some neighborhoods and landlords are known for making the process more difficult. For example, 94% of renters in the Financial District reported getting their security deposits back. In comparison, only 50% of renters in Long Island City received theirs.
In many cases, landlords rely on tenants not knowing their rights and eventually giving up the fight. One openigloo user shared in a review that their landlord is "currently withholding $1000 of the security deposit and ignoring all attempts to get an explanation." It's important to know that landlords are REQUIRED to give you an explanation as to why they are keeping your deposit.
There are many tips and tricks on how to improve your chances of getting your deposit back. You can document the move-in and move-out condition, make any necessary repairs and be sure not to leave anything behind. But many tenants have done everything right and even left an apartment in better shape than when they found it.
So what else can be done? It may require threatening legal action. One openigloo user shared, "My landlord tried to steal my security deposit by trying to come up with excuse after excuse. So she just stopped taking my phone calls or responding to emails for three months after I moved out (she even claimed she didn't have a computer). However, as soon as I got a lawyer, she sent that check REAL QUICK (with no deductions)."
While having a lawyer is no guarantee of getting your deposit back, knowing the laws and regulations around security deposits is a good place to start. Here are a few things every New York City renter should know about security deposits.
1. Your landlord has 14 days to return your deposit
For non-regulated apartments, your landlord has to return your deposit within 14 days of your move-out. New laws require landlords to provide an itemized list of the damages and the related repair costs. Remember, they have 14 days to do this. If not, they forfeit their right to the deposit.
2. You can request a walk-through
As a safeguard, you could request a walk-through before you move out. During this walk-through, the landlord has to provide an itemized list of damage and give you a chance to address it. This strategy could be a way to avoid the landlord overcharging you for simple repairs.
3. Deposits need to be in an interest-bearing New York State Bank account
Usually, in buildings with more than six units, landlords are supposed to keep your deposit in an interest-bearing account with a New York State bank. They are required to tell you the name and address of the bank and the account number.
While your deposit is supposed to collect interest, landlords can also charge a 1% administration fee. Because interest rates are so low, that fee can erase any interest you may be entitled to.
4. Your landlord cannot ask you to pay more than a month's rent as a deposit
New rent reforms now forbid landlords from collecting more than one month's rent as a security deposit. Perhaps a landlord will ask for this if you are an international student or new immigrant without US credit. Still, this practice is illegal for both market-rate and rent-regulated apartments.
5. You may have to pay more towards your deposit if your rent goes up
Suppose you are renewing your lease, and your rent goes up. In that case, the landlord can collect additional money to bring the security deposit up to 1 month's rent.
Side note: if you have a rent-stabilized apartment, make sure your landlord increases your rent by the legal amount. If you're unsure whether you have a rent-stabilized apartment, request your rental history through the Homes and Community Renewal website.
6. Tenants are not supposed to pay for normal wear and tear
Tenants are not supposed to be held responsible for general wear and tear of an apartment. The issue is that every landlord has a different interpretation of wear and tear. It's good practice to have transparency with your landlord before moving-in of what they consider normal wear and tear. Get it in writing. But generally, courts interpret wear and tear as the deterioration from normal use of a property without fault, without negligence, and without carelessness.
So don't let your landlord charge you for things like small holes from wall hangings or floor scuffs.
7. You can take your landlord to small claims court or file a complaint with the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau of the New York State Attorney General
If you've been going back and forth with your landlord for months, or worse, they've just stopped answering your emails, you may have to take things to court. You can fight your landlord in Small Claims Court for up to $10,000 - but make sure you have clear documentation of the apartment's condition to prove your case.
Navigating security deposits is no easy task. But knowing and fighting for your rights is a good start. If you've been burned before by a landlord who has unjustly kept your deposit, be sure to share your experience on the openigloo app - it's anonymous. Collecting and sharing information about landlords who illegally keep deposits is essential so that future renters can avoid those buildings. Similarly, if you’ve had a landlord that made your move-out experience really seamless, give them a shoutout. Help the next renter find (or avoid) their next home!