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Learn about returning or getting back a security deposit

Find information on the requirements for a tenant to receive a security deposit back.
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Timeline for returning

A landlord must return a tenant’s security deposit and any accrued interest, minus any portion that was rightfully deducted, within 30 days after the tenant moves out. However, if 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 doesn’t return the balance of the security deposit they owe the tenant on time, the landlord loses the right to keep any portion of it.

Failure to return

If a landlord forfeits the right to hold a tenant’s security deposit during the tenancy and doesn’t return it upon the tenant’s request or doesn’t return any portion of the security deposit and interest owed on time and/or properly 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 they have failed to either hold the security deposit in a proper account, transfer the security deposit to a new owner or property manager, or return the balance of a the security deposit and interest to a tenant on time after the end of their tenancy, the court may award the tenant 3 times the amount of the security deposit plus interest and attorney’s fees.

Property damage greater than the amount of the security deposit

If the cost to repair damage to the property is greater than 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 can’t sue the tenant for damage to the property in a summary process (eviction) case.

What if the landlord loses the right to hold the tenant’s security deposit?  

Even if the landlord loses the right to hold the security deposit, they may file a civil or small claims case against the tenant for damage to the property. However, a landlord can’t countersue the tenant for damage to the property in a lawsuit brought by the tenant against the landlord for failing to return the security deposit on time or properly — the landlord still needs to file a separate civil or small claims case against the tenant.

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Last updated: August 23, 2018

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