Tampa Property Management Tip #10 - Rules and Procedures to Keep a Tenant's Security Deposit
When a tenant moves out, a landlord must complete an inspection of the property before refunding or keeping a security deposit. Legally, you must have proof of any damages that occurred if you wish to charge the tenant. The vast majority of private landlords keep no proof and send no notice to the tenant. They simply just tell them over the phone the deposit will not be given back. This is illegal in Florida and probably in all states.
In the State of Florida, you have 15 days refund the security deposit if there are no damages and claim on the deposit. Otherwise, you have 30 days to send them a certified letter explaining damages or past due rent. If a tenant owes you rent, you are not allowed, by law, to keep the security deposit without proper notification. The traditional way is sending them a certified letter with return receipt and keeping a copy of the notice.
If the 30 days passes and the landlord does not notify the tenant of the intent to keep all or a portion of the deposit, the security deposit is due in full regardless of whether damages occurred, rent is still due, or an eviction occurred. You must stay on top of this, or you can be dragged into small claims court. Florida law allows for triple damages plus attorney’s fees and court costs. Believe me, most judges hate landlords –likely because there are so many bad ones—and will be delighted to award maximum damages to the tenant.
The form you should use to notify tenants of damages can be obtained at your county courthouse, typically where the evictions are filed, or online.
The second key to keep a security deposit is having proof of damages. In case a tenant does file a court case, you better have proof of damages. In my Tampa Property Management Company, we take a digital camera and document all damages and trash in the rental. We do a written estimate of repairs and put all of this in their file. This way, we are well covered in the event of a tenant dispute. It also helps to provide this to the tenant by email. For some strange reason, most tenants conveniently forget the condition they left their rental. Sometimes, a gentle reminder with pictures is all you need to end the dispute. The tenant(s) will still be upset but are far more likely to let the matter drop then file a case in small claims court.
Finally, you should develop a checklist of all items you intend to inspect for possible damage. Items might include: walls, doors, windows, shades, appliances, ceilings, AC unit, etc. We have this form handy and fill it out on the spot, and this ensures we do in fact make a careful inspection and have actual documentation.
This tip doesn’t take very long to set-up and is quite easy to implement. You just need to get your inspection form and security deposit notification form. I would put some sort of reminder in your computer or files so you remember to complete the process in a timely manner. You just fill out the paperwork, send to tenant, and file everything away in the property folder.
In another article, I will explain how and why you should put a list of common damages and fees into your lease. Judges are much more willing to allow you to charge for items if you have disclosed the costs to the tenant at the very beginning.