How long does a landlord have to return a tenant’s security deposit after the tenant moves out?

A landlord must return a tenant’s security deposit and any accrued interest, less any portion that was validly deducted, within 30 days after the tenant moves out. If, however, a tenant has a written lease and moves out before the lease ends, the landlord has up to 30 days after the lease ends to return the balance of the security deposit and interest to the tenant. If the landlord does not timely return the balance of the security deposit owed to the tenant, the landlord loses the right to keep any portion of it.  

What can a tenant do if a landlord does not return the tenant’s deposit after forfeiting (losing) the right to hold or keep it?

If a landlord forfeits the right to hold a tenant’s security deposit during the tenancy and fails to return it upon request of the tenant or fails to timely/properly return any portion of the security deposit and interest owed to the tenant after the tenancy ends, the tenant may file a civil or small claims case against the landlord. The small claims limit in Massachusetts is $7,000. If a landlord has forfeited the right to hold or keep a security deposit because he or she has failed to either hold the security deposit in a proper account, transfer the security deposit to a new owner or property manager, or timely return the balance of a the security deposit and interest to a tenant after the end of his or her tenancy, the court may award the tenant with three times the amount of the security deposit plus interest and attorney’s fees.

What can a landlord do if the damage to the property caused or allowed by the tenant is greater than the amount of the tenant’s security deposit? What if the landlord forfeits (loses) the right to hold the tenant’s security deposit?  

If the cost to repair damage to the property exceeds the amount of the security deposit, a landlord may file a civil or small claims case against the tenant for the balance of the repair costs. The small claims limit in Massachusetts is $7,000.  A landlord may not sue the tenant for damage to the property in a summary process (eviction) case.  

Even if the landlord forfeits the right to hold the security deposit, he or she may file a civil or small claims case against the tenant for damage to the property. However, a landlord may not countersue the tenant for damage to the property in a law suit brought by the tenant against the landlord for failing to timely or properly return the security deposit. The landlord still needs to file a separate civil or small claims case against the tenant.