Security deposits are a common point of contention between landlords and tenants, even if the tenant leaves the property on good terms. Oftentimes this disagreement is the result of a breakdown in communication between landlord and tenant. Today, we want to share some tips from the landlord’s point of view as to how you can avoid a disagreement over your security deposit, what to do if your tenant threatens to sue you for the security deposit, and what legal actions you can take if you feel the tenant is in the wrong.
Security Deposits In Illinois
Although it varies slightly depending on how many units you manage and what is stipulated in your tenant agreement, Illinois requires a landlord to return a tenant’s security deposit within 30 to 45 days of them vacating the property. Failing to meet this deadline will not help you in the eyes of the court, but even if you return the deposit before this deadline, a tenant may feel that they were shortchanged. That’s why you should consider these tips to avoid a misunderstanding:
1. A Thorough Move Out Letter – A thorough move out letter will not only give the tenant a clear idea of your expectations during the move out process, but it can also be shown in any suit to show that you listed any and all possible areas for deductions. You can also explain when the tenant can expect the check and how to get in contact with you if they need to leave a forwarding address so the returned deposit can reach them without complication.
2. Landlord-Tenant Checklist – When inspecting a recently vacated unit to determine what needs to be fixed and what will be taken out of the security deposit, always do so with the assistance of a landlord-tenant checklist. This will have an itemized list of everything in the unit and you can clearly track what needs to be fixed and the costs associated with each. Make a copy or send the carbon copy to the tenant when returning a portion of their security deposit.
3. Videotape Your Inspection – It’s also a good idea to record your inspection on video or with photographs. There’s a good chance your tenant did the same, and they probably won’t focus on any areas that may need fixing. At a minimum, they can help showcase that you performed a thorough inspection should you be taken to court.
4. Itemize All Potential Deductions – Aside from what was listed in the Landlord-Tenant Checklist, there are also some other things that can affect the security deposit. A landlord can deduct from the deposit for any unpaid rend, unpaid utilities, or for returning the unit to its original format if the tenant made any changes of their own.
If You’re Sued
If you’ve followed the above tips, odds are you’ll be able to settle any disagreement before you go to court, but if a tenant still decides to sue you, they can seek damages in small claims court for up to $10,000. It’s generally in your best option to avoid going to court, so if there was a mistake on your part, try to rectify the error or see if the tenant will be willing to meet with a 3rd party arbitrator to settle the dispute. However, if you can’t reach an agreement or you know you’re in the right, consider hiring a tenant dispute lawyer.
Similarly, if the security deposit does not cover the amount owed to you, you can seek damages on your end. You should begin by writing to your former tenant explaining why you are seeking additional payment, proof of the damage you believe occurred, and stating your intentions to sue by a certain date if they do not hold up their end of the lease agreement. If the tenant does not make arrangements prior to that deadline, you should consider pursuing legal action, either on your own or with the assistance of an attorney.