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Can a landlord keep my security deposit?

For many renters in North Carolina, coming up with a security deposit along with the first month's rent is difficult. It is a lot of money to hand over at one time, so it is natural to wonder what the landlord does with it. It is also natural to want it all back when you move out.

The North Carolina Real Estate Commission explains that most landlords require a security deposit to cover any damages, accidental or intended, to the property during a lease period. Property owners/landlords and rental agents they may use to manage a property must follow the guidelines established by the North Carolina Tenant Security Deposit Act.

The act limits the amount a tenant may be charged for a security deposit to one-and-a-half times the monthly rent for month-to-month leases. Tenants may also be charged a non-refundable pet fee of any "reasonable" amount. In addition to the pet fee, your landlord may able keep all or a portion of your security deposit to repair any damage the pet causes.

Landlords must keep your deposit in a trust escrow account that is separate from the landlord's personal funds. They must use a licensed and insured bank and notify you in writing within 30 days which bank your deposit is in.

A landlord cannot charge you for normal wear and tear. The act recognizes that over time, carpeting wears out no matter how well you treat it, as does plumbing, heating and other items in any rental unit. Painting, cleaning the carpet and other maintenance tasks are part of that normal wear and tear. However, if you do cause specific damage that requires special cleaning or replacement, you can be charged for that.

If you move out before the lease ends, you may be charged for the loss of rent, but the landlord must also make a good effort to find new tenants. If new renters are found quickly, you are only liable for rent lost before their move-in. If you are unable to pay rent, you may be evicted and the landlord can use your deposit to cover unpaid rent and late fees, as well as any damage.

Finally, a landlord must return your deposit within 30 days of your move-out. They may keep all or a portion of it to repair damages; in this case, they must provide an itemized statement of damages and the cost of repair, and return any amount left over.

The information given here is general in nature. It is not meant to be, nor should it be interpreted as legal advice.

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