Security Deposits: What you need to know if your student's lease will be ending this summer

Most off-campus rentals require payment of a security deposit before a tenant moves in. Under North Carolina law a security deposit is fully refundable if the tenant has paid rent every month and has not damaged the rental property. Unfortunately, security deposits are not always promptly returned after a tenant moves out. Here are a few tips to help your student get his or her security deposit back:

Know the security deposit law.

The North Carolina “Tenant Security Deposit Act” requires landlords to refund a tenant’s security deposit within 30 days of the end of the tenancy (typically the end of the lease period). If the security deposit is not fully refunded, the landlord must provide a written accounting of how the deposit was used. The security deposit can only be used to cover the specific types of costs incurred by the landlord that are listed in the Tenant Security Deposit Act. These include unpaid rent, damage to the rental property caused by the tenant, and the cost of re-renting an apartment after a tenant has breached the lease (in other words, administrative costs incurred by the landlord if a tenant moves out early). The Act expressly states that the security deposit may not be used to cover damages caused by ordinary wear and tear – and that the amount deducted must be based on the actual costs of the landlord.

Document, document, document!

From the time your student moves into an off-campus apartment, he or she should document the conditions in the apartment. Documentation may include photographs, notes about any problems (including the date when the problem occurred or was discovered, when a request for repair was made to the landlord, and what was done in response to the request), and copies of any correspondence of other written documents regarding problems or repairs. Requests for repairs should be made to the landlord in writing and should be made as quickly as possible, before the problem gets worse.

Follow the instructions in the lease or landlord’s rules regarding move-out.

Before moving out, your student should check the lease and/ or landlord’s written rules to see what is required at the time of move-out. Some landlords include detailed instructions for how the apartment must be cleaned prior to vacating and/ or specific protocols for return of keys, etc. Your student should be sure the apartment is clean and empty – and take pictures before leaving to document the conditions that exist at the time of move-out.

Follow-up promptly if the security deposit is not fully refunded.

Make sure to provide a mailing address for return of the deposit. If the security deposit, or a written accounting of how the deposit was used, is not received within 30 days after your student moves out, don’t delay in communicating with the landlord about the status of the deposit and requesting that it be promptly refunded. If your student has problems or questions about the return of a security deposit, free, confidential legal advice is available from the Student Legal Clinic, located in the Office of the Dean of Students on the 3rd floor of the Student Union. Feel free to call (828) 262-8284 or email with any questions!