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Most landlords will require a security deposit to cover possible damage to the rental property or nonpayment of rent. If there is damage to the rental property when you move in, make a list of the problems, date it, and have your landlord sign the list so that you won’t be blamed for the damage. (This will also help you if you encounter delays in getting the damage repaired, see Repairs.) When you move out, make sure the apartment is clean and in good condition. Take photographs or make a videotape showing that it was in good condition when you moved out. This will be evidence for you if there is a dispute about your security deposit. Tenants generally are responsible for any damage they cause to the rental property but generally are not responsible for normal wear and tear (for instance, worn carpets or faded drapes).

When you move out, be sure to supply your landlord with your forwarding address, in writing. This allows you to collect double damages if the landlord wrongfully withholds your security deposit.

Amount of Security Deposits. Pennsylvania law regulates the amount of money a landlord may collect as a security deposit. Sometimes landlords will collect more money from you by requiring that you pay the first month’s rent, the last month’s rent, or both, in advance, as well as giving them a security deposit.

According to Pennsylvania law:

  • During the first year of the lease, the landlord can charge no more than two month’s rent as a security deposit.
  • During the second year of the lease, the landlord can charge no more than one month’s rent as a security deposit. Any amount in excess of one month’s rent must be returned to you.
  • During the third year of the lease, if your security deposit is over $100, the landlord must deposit it into an interest-bearing bank account and must inform you of the name and address of the bank where the account is located. At the end of the third year, the landlord must give you the interest earned on the account, minus a 1% handling charge.

When the Security Must Be Returned. The landlord must return your security deposit to you within 30 days after the end of your lease. If the landlord deducts anything for damages, he must give you a written list of damages and return the balance of the deposit within the 30 days. If the landlord doesn’t give you the written list of damages within 30 days, he loses the right to keep any part of your deposit or to sue you for damage to the property.

Furthermore, if the landlord does not return the difference between your deposit and actual damages within 30 days, you can sue him to recover double the amount that he wrongfully withheld, providing you supplied him with a forwarding address in writing when you moved. If you have not provided a forwarding address in writing, you can still sue your landlord, but only for the original amount. You can sue your landlord in District Justice Court without the need to hire a lawyer.

If you owe rent, the landlord can keep all or part of the security deposit to cover the amount you owe. The landlord does not have to give you any special notice to do so. If your landlord believes that you owe him for unpaid rent or damages in excess of the security deposit, he can sue you to recover the rest.