Most residential landlords and leases require a security deposit intended to cover any damage to the property beyond normal wear and tear, and to provide some recourse to the landlord if the tenant leaves early and does not pay rent.
Chapter 92, Subchapter C of the Texas Property Code contains requirements pertaining to landlord accounting and refunding of security deposits.
Under Texas law, a landlord must return the tenant’s security deposit or an itemized accounting of any deductions within 30 days after the tenant surrenders the premises, but only if the tenant gives the landlord the tenant’s forwarding address in writing. If the tenant does not give a forwarding address in writing, the requirement is not forfeited, just delayed until they do.
Before returning a security deposit, the landlord may deduct from the deposit any damages the tenant is legally liable for. A landlord cannot deduct for normal wear and tear, which refers to deterioration from the regular, intended use of the rental unit (such as small nail holes in the walls from pictures or paintings). Damages caused by negligence, carelessness, accidents, or abuse of the premises by the tenant or the tenant’s guests are not considered wear and tear. If the landlord makes any deductions from the deposit, a written, itemized accounting of how much is being charged for each item must be sent to the tenant. Bad faith on the part of the landlord is presumed according to sec. 92.109(d) if the required accounting is not sent within 30 days.
A tenant may dispute the items on the accounting and ask for an explanation from the landlord. If the security deposit is not mailed within 30 days after the tenant vacates the premises and turns in a forwarding address, the tenant can sue the landlord. A landlord can be held liable for $100, three times the amount of the deposit which is wrongfully withheld, reasonable attorney’s fees, and court costs if the tenant can show the landlord acted in bad faith. In addition, a landlord who does not provide a written description and itemized list of damages and charges, in bad faith, forfeits the right to withhold any portion of the security deposit or to bring suit against the tenant for damages to the premises.
When damages are less than $20,000, the tenant can sue without a lawyer by going to the local justice of the peace court. The tenant should bring copies of the lease, deposit receipts, the letter given to the landlord with the forwarding address, and any other documents that will be helpful in providing evidence in the case.
If you are a landlord or tenant dealing with a disputed security deposit and need an attorney on your side, give us a call!