Within 14 days after you notified the landlord that you have left the unit, the landlord must return your security deposit and/or notify you in writing why all or part of it will not be returned. 9 V.S.A. § 4461(c). Your landlord must hand deliver or mail your full deposit.
If the landlord wants to keep your deposit for the reasons the landlord can legally keep your deposit, the landlord must send a letter listing deductions from your deposit. If the deductions do not add up to the entire deposit, the landlord’s letter must include a check for the difference.
There are only four legal reasons the landlord can keep all or part of your security deposit, 9 V.S.A. § 4461 (b):
- unpaid rent
- damage to the unit. “Damage” means defects in walls, floors, appliances and fixtures caused by negligence, carelessness, accident, or abuse by the tenant or the tenant’s household members or guests. 9 V.S.A. § 4451(5).
- unpaid utilities that your rental agreement called for you to pay
- the cost of removing trash or other items you left in the unit
Your landlord cannot legally keep your security deposit for:
- cleaning to prepare for a new tenant, such as carpet cleaning, removing scuff marks, or wear showing on high traffic areas such as light switches and door frames. You should leave the unit “broom clean.” There should not be spills on counter or floors, or splashes on walls. Appliances and fixtures should have been kept clean, and not show accumulation of grease, dust or soap scum. You should not leave things in the refrigerator. You should not leave trash. You should not leave pet waste.
- “normal wear and tear.” Normal wear and tear means the deterioration that normally occurs based upon the reasonable use (including reasonable regular cleaning) of floors, walls, appliances and fixtures. So the landlord — not the tenant — is responsible for:
- painting or cleaning the unit between tenants
- cleaning the carpet or replacing it if it is old
- washing the windows
- cleaning the light fixtures, etc.
The amount of wear and tear and the amount of maintenance that can be considered reasonable will depend on the length of time you lived in the rental unit and the condition of the unit when you moved in. The law does not allow a landlord to use a security deposit to improve or upgrade the unit. If the carpet was worn when you moved in, the landlord cannot keep your deposit to replace the worn out carpet when you move out. The law also doesn’t allow the landlord to use your deposit to repair damage that was already there when you moved in.