Security Deposits

Authored By: Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) LSC Funded


What is a security deposit?

A security deposit is money you pay when you first move into a rental unit. This money protects the landlord from losses like:

  • Unpaid rent or utilities
  • Late charges
  • Damages that you, your family, or your guests cause
  • Other money you owe the landlord when you move out

How can I protect my deposit?

When you move in, your landlord should give you a list of the rental unit's condition. You may be asked to sign it. Go through the list carefully. Make sure that everything is right. Write in any damages not on the list. When you are done, send a copy of your list to the landlord. Keep a copy for yourself.

Do I have to clean before I move out?

Yes. The rental unit must be in the same condition as when you moved in. You are not responsible for ordinary wear and tear. You are not responsible for the regular maintenance the landlord does to the apartment.

Can my landlord take cleaning costs from my security deposit?

Yes. Your landlord can charge you for any cleaning you don't do when you leave. But first your landlord must tell you in writing what cleaning you must do. Your landlord can't take money from your deposit for cleaning without giving you written notice first.

After you get the notice, you have 24 hours to do the requested cleaning. Make sure you do all the cleaning. If you don't, your landlord can deduct reasonable costs of the cleaning from your security deposit.

If you didn't give proper notice when you moved, your landlord can deduct costs for cleaning without first giving you the written notice.

How long does my landlord have to return my security deposit?

In general, your landlord has 30 days after the end of your rental agreement to give you:

  • A written list of all deductions from your deposit
  • The remainder of your security deposit after making the deductions

Give your landlord your new address when you move out. If you do not give your landlord a new address, the landlord will mail the depoist to your last known address.

Can I get my security deposit back sooner than 30 days?

Yes. Your landlord must return your full security deposit within 10 days after you move if there are:

  • No damages
  • No more cleaning to do
  • No unpaid rent or utilities

My landlord didn't give me a written explanation of why he kept my security deposit. What should I do?

Your landlord must give you written explanation of why he kept your security deposit within 30 days of the end of your rental agreement. If he doesn't, he might not be able to keep any of your deposit. Write your landlord a letter asking that he return the deposit. Make sure to keep a copy for yourself. If your landlord still doesn't return your deposit, you can sue him in court.

What if my landlord wrongly keeps my deposit?

If you disagree with the amount your landlord has kept from your deposit, write a letter to the landlord. The letter should say why you disagree, and why the landlord should send the money back.

Keep a copy of the letter. If you and your landlord still disagree, you may have to file an action in court.

What do I need to show the court to get all or part of my deposit back?

If you sue your landlord, you should tell the court if your landlord did not give you a written description of the rental's condition. The landlord should have given this to you when you moved in. If you didn't get it, the landlord must prove that it was you who caused any damages, and not a previous tenant.

If your landlord didn't tell you in writing why you didn't get your deposit, be sure to tell the court. Your landlord must send you a written list of deductions from your deposit. Your landlord has 30 days after your rental agreement ends to send you the letter.

Even if your landlord gave you the list of deductions he was supposed to, it may be that you think the landlord is wrong. You cansue the landlord in court, asking for your deposit. At the hearing, you can:

  • Have people who know the damages were there when you moved in speak for you in court.
  • Show pictures of the rental from before and after your stay there.

The landlord must then prove that you caused any damages.

Can I get attorney fees if I win?

Yes. The judge may award you attorney fees if you win. The judge may also award attorney fees to the landlord if the landlord wins.

Can my landlord file criminal charges against me if s/he thinks I damaged the rental property?

Yes.  If you purposely or knowingly destroyed, defaced, damaged, impaired, or removed any part of the premises, or permitted any other person to do so -- and the amount of damage was at least $1,000 --  then the landlord may file criminal charges against you under Sec. 45-6-106, MCA.  If convicted, you could be fined up to $1,000 or jailed for up to 6 months, or both.  If convicted, the court must order you to make restitution in an amount set by the court.


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Last Review and Update: Jul 31, 2012

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