One of the most common landlord-tenant disputes revolves around the landlord’s return of a security deposit. Without getting into the issue as to whether money given by the tenant is considered a “security deposit” in the first instance (every now and again there are disputes), the typical scenario is that the tenant vacates the premises at the end of the lease term (or after an eviction) and the landlord refuses to return the security deposit, usually claiming damage to the premises or back rent.

Absent some term contained in the lease agreement to the contrary, the landlord is allowed by law to apply any security deposit to tenant’s back rent. If the tenant owes the money, the landlord does not have to return the security deposit. One point of clarification is that the right of the landlord to apply the deposit to back rent exists even if the lease contains the common term “that the deposit will not be applied to rent.” Sometimes tenants believe that the landlord is contractually prohibited from keeping the deposit as payment for back rent after reading a such phraseology in their lease. This, however, is not what that particular lease-term means. That term simply means that if the tenant fails to pay the monthly rent at some point during the lease-term that the landlord will not apply the deposit to cover that payment. Rather, the tenant will still owe that month’s rent, notwithstanding the fact that the landlord is in possession of money given by the tenant for that exact amount. Such a term does not mean that the landlord can only use the deposit for damages caused to the premises.

But if the tenant remained current on the rent through the end of the leasehold, and provided the tenant was not responsible for any damages above normal wear and tear, the landlord MUST return the entire security deposit within a specified time. If the landlord fails to return the security deposit, the tenant has a cause of action against the landlord.

Under the Ohio Revised Code, a landlord must return your security deposit, along with an itemized list of any deductions from the deposit, to the former tenant within 30 days of the end of the lease. If the landlord fails to return the security deposit (or fails to provide a detailed itemization of damages) within this time-frame, the tenant is entitled to double the amount of the deposit withheld and may be awarded costs and attorney’s fees as well.

However, it must be pointed out that the tenant also has a duty to provide the landlord with an address to which the landlord is to send the deposit and itemized list of deductions. The 30 day time-frame does not begin to run against the landlord until the tenant has provided the landlord with such an address in writing. So tenants need to be aware of the requirement that the landlord receive this information in writing when they move out.

For a sample demand form for tenants, go here: FREE LEGAL FORMS