Apartment Leases & Security Desposits

Apartment Leases & Security Desposits

There are several steps involved in getting your security deposit refunded:

In order to get the money returned, the tenant must give the landlord a forwarding address and return the keys to the property.

Within 30 days after the tenants move out, the landlord must either: Return the security deposit; or, Send the tenant a list of damages, the cost of repairs and any money remaining from the security deposit.

If the landlord does not provide a written list of damages within 30 days, he gives up the right to keep any part of the security deposit. The tenant must take two approaches to finding a remedy to this situation: The tenant can sue to recover the deposit without the landlord being able to raise any defense; or, The tenant can sue for double the amount of the security deposit. In this case, the landlord can counterclaim for damages done to his property. If you are experiencing any landlord/tenant problems contact the local Better Business Commission Office.

What If You Are Still Uncertain About Your Lease or Contract? Although the Off-Campus Housing Office cannot provide legal interpretations, we can help you understand the terminology of a lease, refer you to legal services, and suggest modifications in your lease or contract if appropriate and desirable. So if you are still lost after reading this, bring in a copy of your lease before you sign it, and we’ll look over it. If you encounter problems: You will help your fellow students if you let the Off-Campus Housing Office know the place, the property owner, what the problem was, and when it happened (in writing). Only with evidence such as this can we refuse to list a facility or property owner.


A lease between a landlord and a tenant is an oral or written contract to rent property. It is therefore essential that you scrutinize the lease before signing. It is difficult to change or break a lease without one side surrendering a sum of money.

Oral Leases: Pennsylvania law permits landlords and tenants to agree verbally on the conditions of occupancy for rental dwelling. These verbal agreements are termed oral leases and may be made for a period of up to three years. Oral leases often have the advantage of containing less burdensome restrictions than written leases. However, while oral leases are just as binding as written agreements, their provisions are much hard to enforce under the law—one person’s word against another’s.

Written Leases: Most written leases for residential dwellings encompass a one-year period. The landlord cannot legally raise the rent, unless the lease provides an escalation clause, or change the terns of occupancy so long as the lease is in effect. Unless the tenant breaks a condition of the contract, the landlord cannot rightfully expel the tenant before the conclusion of the lease period. Conversely, a tenant is obligated to pay rent for the full lease period and abide by all the provisions of the agreement provided that the landlord does not ignore his/her legal responsibilities.


What Should A Lease Contain?

  • The specific address, including apartment number
  • The length of the lease.
  • An explanation of the rent payment procedure: how much, the date owed, the place to send the payment, any late penalties, and whether the rent can be increased during the lease period.
  • Utilities for which you are responsible.
  • Who to get in touch with and how to get in touch with them for maintenance and repairs.
  • A complete list of any regulations your landlord expects you to follow.
  • How you can terminate or renew your lease, including any penalty you must pay for breaking the lease.
  • The amount of security deposit to be paid.

Any other mandatory services for which your landlord insists on performing and charging you.

Be Sure To Keep A Copy For Yourself

Many leases may contain provisions that:

  • Prohibit you from subletting the apartment and from moving without the landlord’s consent.
  • Permit the landlord to enter the property for inspection, repair or to show it to potential tenants.
  • Prohibit more than the number of people named in the lease from occupying the property.
  • Give the landlord the right to collect the total rent for the lease period, if you miss one payment.
  • Provide for an automatic renewal or termination of the lease if you do not otherwise notify the landlord at the lease’s expiration or before.
  • Apply to pets, children, and use of facilities.

Security Deposits

A security deposit is money which actually belongs to the tenant, but is held by the landlord for protection against damages or unpaid rent. The Landlord/Tenant Act regulates security deposits and places a limit on the amount a landlord can charge.

According to the Law...

  • During the first year of a lease, a security deposit cannot be charged in excess of two months rent.
  • At the beginning of a second year of the lease, a landlord cannot request a security deposit that is equivalent to more than one months rent. Therefore, if the landlord asked for a security deposit of two months rent when you first signed the lease, he must refund the equivalent of one months rent at the beginning of the second year.
  • At the beginning of the third year of a lease, the landlord must put any security deposit over $100 in an interest bearing bank account.
  • At the end of the third year of the lease, the landlord must start giving the tenant the interest earned by the account, minus a one percent fee which the landlord may retain.
  • After five years, the landlord cannot increase a security deposit even though the monthly rent may have been increased.

When you first move in, request that the landlord go through the property with you, and together determine any damage which might be subtracted from your security deposit. Also, make a list of any existing damage and repairs that need to be made. Keep a copy of the list, give one to the landlord, and attach a copy to the lease. Such records will assure that the security deposit will only be applied to damages for which you are responsible.