Mark McCown: Tenant wants his security deposit back

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 28, 2022

Dear Lawyer Mark: I got evicted from the apartment I was renting because I got only one month behind on my rent. I left the apartment after he put the notice on my door, but my landlord won’t give me back my security deposit.

I keep calling about it, but he won’t answer my calls or get back to me. Can he do this? — Upset in Upper

Dear Upset: The first thing you need to do is read your rental agreement. You didn’t say how much you paid for your deposit, or whether the agreement says that it is “last month’s rent” or an actual “security deposit”? These terms will determine what a tenant is entitled to when a lease has ended. Ohio law governs landlord and tenant relationships and describes the procedures for security deposits in R.C. §5321.16.

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If the agreement says you advanced “last month’s rent,” then the amount is deemed applied to the month you didn’t pay. If it was a “security deposit” in an amount equal to or less than the rent due, then the amount can again be used to pay the delinquent rent, but the landlord must notify you of this in writing. If it was a “security deposit” in an amount greater than the rent due, then the landlord must also refund the difference to you, or explain in writing why he is keeping the balance.

A landlord cannot withhold a security deposit without an explanation.

By law, the landlord is required to provide an identified and itemized written list to the tenant of any deductions from the security deposit within 30 days after the rental agreement has been terminated, and must mail it to the new address of the tenant.

This means the tenant must provide the landlord with a forwarding address so that the landlord can send this document.

Ultimately, when a landlord fails to properly provide tenants with the itemized list of damages, the tenants may recover the money to which they are entitled from the deposit, plus reasonable attorney’s fees.

As a penalty, the court will also grant the tenants an additional amount equal to the amount that was unlawfully held. In other words, the landlord would have to pay the tenant twice the amount they are owed, plus the tenant’s attorney’s fees.

In certain circumstances, landlords may also be required to pay interest annually to tenants who have had security deposits with them for longer than six months.

Thought for the Week: “Come live in my heart, and pay no rent.” Samuel Lover.

It’s The Law is written by attorney Mark K. McCown in response to legal questions received by him. If you have a question, please forward it to Mark K. McCown, 311 Park Avenue, Ironton, Ohio 45638, or e-mail it to him at The right to condense and/or edit all questions is reserved.