Security deposits protect landlords from lost revenue and damage to the rental property.But when must a landlord refund a security deposit and when is it legal for a landlord to keep the entire deposit?

Under Idaho Code section 6-320 and 6-321, any money that is deposited with a landlord that is not rent is considered a “security deposit.” Once the tenant returns the premises back to the landlord, the landlord must do one of the following: 1) return the entire security deposit, 2) give a partial refund and provide a written statement with an itemized list explaining the amounts deducted, or 3) keep the entire security deposit and provide a written statement with an itemized list explaining the amounts deducted.

If the landlord deducts any money from  the security deposit, then the itemized list must be provided to tenant within 21 days after the lease ends, or within 30 days if previously agreed to in the lease. A landlord may deduct money from the security deposit for any reason agreed upon in the lease. If the lease is silent about the security deposit, however, then a landlord may deduct for any damages to the property, but cannot deduct for normal “wear and tear.”

Additionally, a landlord may keep a tenant’s security deposit if the tenant failed to give the landlord proper notice when breaking the lease. Typically, at least 30 days notice is required unless otherwise agreed to by the landlord and tenant.

If a landlord fails to return a security deposit to the tenant, then the tenant can write the landlord requesting an explanation and itemized deduction list. If, after three days of the tenant submitting this written request the landlord fails to provide this list, then the tenant  may initiate suit against the landlord. If the judge finds that the landlord did not properly return the deposit, then the tenant may be awarded up three times the amount of the security deposit in damages.

Finally, landlords should also beware of the Idaho Consumer Protection Act (ICPA) when deducting damages from a security deposit. The ICPA prohibits a landlord for deducting money for unnecessary and imaginary repairs. If the landlord is found in violation of the ICPA, then they may be fined up to $5,000.00 in addition to refunding the entire security deposit.

For representation in matters involving security deposits, evictions, leases, or any other aspect of landlord-tenant law, contact Angstman Johnson to set up a consultation.