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Learn about returning or getting back a security deposit

Find out what the requirements are for a tenant to get a security deposit back.

Table of Contents

When should a security deposit be returned?

A landlord must return a tenant’s security deposit and any interest, minus any portion that was rightfully subtracted, 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 security deposit and interest.

If the landlord doesn’t return the balance of the security deposit on time, they lose the right to keep any portion of it. There is no requirement for what form of payment the landlord must use to return the security deposit.

What if the landlord doesn’t return a security deposit?

The tenant can file a civil or small claims case against the landlord if a landlord:

  •  Doesn’t follow the security deposit law and doesn’t return the deposit when requested (even if the tenant still lives there), or 
  • Doesn’t return the security deposit after the tenancy ends even though there are no damages or unpaid rent.

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 either haven’t held the security deposit in a proper account, transferred the security deposit to a new owner or property manager, or returned the security deposit balance and interest to a tenant on time after the end of the tenancy, the court may award the tenant 3 times the amount of the security deposit plus interest and attorney’s fees.

What if the property damage is 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 can file a civil or small claims case against the tenant for the rest 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 can still 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 that the tenant brings against the landlord for not returning 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: January 13, 2021
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