Getting your security deposit back

You have done your part: Left your rental home in good condition, paid your rent in full and given enough notice. Here’s how to get your security deposit back and what to do if your landlord won’t return it.

This page was last updated on 11.4.22

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Understanding the Basics

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A security deposit is a refundable payment you make at the start of your lease. It’s usually about one month’s rent, but it can be any amount. You have rights to get some or all of it back when your lease ends.

Steps to get your security deposit back

Take these steps to get your security deposit back when your lease ends:

  • Give your landlord a forwarding address in writing. You must give your landlord the address where you want your security deposit to be sent when your lease ends. You can find this requirement in Ohio law under Ohio Revised Code 5321.16 (B). Make sure you give the correct address. Keep a copy of your letter for your records.
  • Return all keys. Give your landlord all the keys you had to your rental unit. Get a receipt showing you returned them.
  • Leave your rental unit in good condition. Take photos and notes of the unit when you move out. Use this checklist for moving out.
  • Pay your rent in full, including the final month.

Read your lease agreement carefully and follow any steps your landlord requires for ending the lease. Learn about what happens if you move out before your lease ends.

When you should get your deposit back

Your landlord is required to either return your whole security deposit or explain why they’re not returning some or all of it to you within 30 days after you move out.  

If they don’t return your full security deposit, they must give you a detailed list of reasons why they are keeping it. (“Cleaning fees” is too general, for example.)

What your security deposit covers

Your security deposit is a refundable payment that you make at the beginning of your lease to “secure your performance” of the lease. It helps show you will follow the lease agreement and make payments on time.

A security deposit can be any amount, but it’s usually about one month’s rent. Check your lease agreement to understand what your security deposit covers.

If you paid a refundable pet deposit or another refundable deposit, it should be considered part of your security deposit. You have the right to get it back when your lease ends.

What your landlord can take out

Your landlord may use your security deposit to cover:

Your landlord may not use your security deposit to cover:

  • Reasonable wear and tear
  • Normal fees, like the cost of repainting the unit if the landlord always repaints when a tenant moves out
  • The full cost of replacing something, like carpet for the whole unit
  • Charges that are unclear or too general, such as “cleaning fees”
  • Fees that are excessive, like several times the normal cost of an item or repair
  • Damages from a break-in that you didn’t cause

What to do if you don’t get your security deposit back

If you’ve done your part and your landlord is keeping your security deposit anyway, send your landlord a letter.

Consider using this template to write a letter to your landlord. In the letter, be direct and ask for your security deposit back.

When you send the letter, be sure to:

  • Include your forwarding address.
  • Use certified mail and request a return receipt. That way, you’ll know that your landlord got the letter.
  • Keep a copy of the letter and certified mail receipt for yourself.

Consider filing a lawsuit in small claims court

If your landlord still does not return your deposit after about 30 days, you can file a case against them in small claims court.

Think through whether the amount of the security deposit is worth your time in filing the claim and then appearing at a hearing.

For more on how to file and what to expect, see the Ohio Judicial Conference’s detailed guide to small claims court.

Interest on security deposits

In general, if your security deposit is more than one month’s rent and you stay 6 months or more in your rental, your landlord will owe you 5% interest per year on the amount in excess of one-months rent. For instance, if your monthly rent is $1,000 and your security deposit is $2,000, your landlord could owe you $50 in interest for the year.  

You can find this requirement in Ohio law under Ohio Revised Code 5321.16 (A).

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