A security deposit is money that the landlord of an apartment may require from a new tenant or a tenant renewing his or her lease. The money can be used by the landlord when the tenant moves out if the tenant leaves owing unpaid rent or damages the apartment beyond normal wear and tear.
The landlord must return the security deposit to the tenant, minus any lawful deductions (for unpaid rent or damage to the property) within a reasonable amount of time after the tenant has completely moved out of the apartment.
The information contained on this web page does not constitute legal advice and must not be used as a substitute for the advice of a lawyer qualified to give advice on legal issues pertaining to housing. For more, visit our page on Finding a lawyer.
This information pertains only to tenants living in New York City.
Many of your rights depend on the type of housing you live in or your type of tenancy. You may be subject to different laws and have different sets of rights than even neighbors in your own building. Learn which rights and responsibilities apply to you.
- My landlord is demanding more than one month's worth of a security deposit for a rent-stabilized apartment. What can I do?
- I am enrolled in the SCRIE or DRIE program - do I have to pay increases in my security deposit when my rent goes up?
- My former landlord claims that I 'damaged' the apartment and is withholding the security deposit... what can I do?
In an unregulated (market-rate) apartment, there is no maximum amount (either in total dollars, or in number of months) that a landlord can charge for a security deposit.
In a rent regulated apartment, the amount of a security deposit is limited by law to one month's rent.
In unregulated (market-rate) apartments, landlords can require a security deposit and the first and last months' rent.
In rent stabilized apartments, landlords are not permitted to ask for the last month's rent upfront.
My landlord is demanding more than one month's worth of a security deposit for a rent-stabilized apartment. What can I do?
If you have not yet rented an apartment, be warned that until you sign a lease, refusing to accept the terms being offered by the landlord may result in the offer of the apartment being rescinded.
If you live in a rent-regulated apartment, your landlord demanded more than one month’s security, and you paid it, you may file form Form RA-89 "Tenant's Complaint of Rent Overcharges and/or Excess Security Deposit" with the New York State Division of Homes and Community Renewal. (Download Form RA-89 or call 718-739-6400.)
In an unregulated (market-rate) apartment, there are no laws governing the maximum security deposits that a landlord can charge a tenant.
In a rent-stabilized apartment, your landlord is entitled to a security deposit equal to one month’s rent, so your landlord can ask for an additional amount at each lease renewal. If your landlord did not ask for an increase in the amount at previous lease renewals, he/she has not waived the right to do so in the future. Your landlord may demand the remaining balance to bring the security deposit up to the equivalent of one full month’s rent.
I am enrolled in the SCRIE or DRIE program - do I have to pay increases in my security deposit when my rent goes up?
Even though tenants in the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) program and the Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) program are exempt from paying rent increases when their rents go up, these tenants are still responsible for paying increases in the security deposits for their apartments.
If you disagrees with your former landlord over the return of the security deposit or payment of interest you may take the following steps:
If the problem is building-wide, you may contact the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office. You may contact the Attorney General’s office at 212-416-8345 or download their Rent Security Complaint Form (also available in Spanish).
If problem is not building wide, you may seek recovery of your security deposit by starting a legal proceeding against your former landlord in Small Claims Court. (The New York State Attorney General’s office offers assistance in some cases to tenants who do not receive their security deposit, but in most cases tenants must fight on their own through Small Claims Court.)
Be advised: Your landlord is not obligated to return your security deposit until a ‘reasonable’ amount of time after you have fully returned possession of the apartment. A ‘reasonable’ amount of time is usually considered to be within a month of when a tenant has completely moved out and returned the keys.
Your landlord can retain part or all of the security deposit of tenants to recover:
- unpaid rent
- physical damage to the apartment beyond normal wear & tear
If you move out without paying the last month’s rent, the landlord can sue you in court for that rent. Security deposits are not meant for that purpose. However, moving out without paying the last month’s rent is a common practice in New York when the landlord holds a security deposit equal to a month’s rent - just be aware that doing so comes with a risk.
You cannot force your landlord to return any portion of your security deposit before you move out, but some landlords might be willing to, especially if they are happy to have you leave. As with any move out, try to arrange for the landlord or someone authorized by the landlord to look at the apartment after your furniture is out to sign a statement that they agree that the apartment is undamaged, “broom clean”, no rent is owed, and that they have received the keys.
You must leave an apartment empty of things and people when moving out. That means you cannot leave a subtenant or furniture in the apartment. Most leases require that tenants leave the apartment “broom clean” when moving out. This means that there is no furniture, garbage, or debris in the apartment. It also means that you are not expected to scrub every surface clean. If you damaged the apartment, either repair the damage or discuss the cost with the landlord. Make sure that you are caught up on the rent and have receipts for the rent payments.
When you move out try to arrange for the landlord or someone authorized by the landlord to look at the apartment after your furniture is out to sign a statement that they agree that the apartment is undamaged, “broom clean”, no rent is owed, and that they have received the keys. If there is any doubt, take photos of the apartment or get a witness to come in and see that the apartment is undamaged.
Tip: when taking a photo of the condiiton of your apartment, hold up a copy of the front page of that day’s daily newspaper with the headline visible in the picture, as part of proving the date in which you took the picture.
My former landlord claims that I 'damaged' the apartment and is withholding the security deposit... what can I do?
If you wish to recover a security deposit after you moved out and the landlord won’t return it, you can sue the landlord in Small Claims Court if the amount is under $5000. Be prepared to show proof that the rent was fully paid and the apartment was undamaged when you left.