The biggest complaint the Arizona Tenants Union gets from tenants, by far, is that landlords do not properly refund their security deposits. Sometimes landlords simply don’t give any of it back without explanation; more often, they give a list of deductions that encompasses most of the security deposit. It seems like they consciously try to figure out the balance of how little money they can return to the tenant to ameliorate him and prevent him from going after the rest of it in court, and then coming up with a list justifying the withholding of the balance.
This is the rule of security deposits. Under A.R.S. § 33-1321, a landlord may withhold from the security deposit: 1) unpaid rent; and 2) actual damages caused by the tenant beyond normal wear and tear for which the landlord can demonstrate he incurred an expense in correcting. He cannot simply assign arbitrarily a dollar amount to damages, say, $20.00 for a nail hole in the wall; $50.00 for a dirty sink. Subsection (D) of the above referenced statute (and other parts of the landlord/tenant act as well) requires the landlord to mitigate damages. This means that even if the tenant is responsible for a defective condition in the apartment, the landlord has to correct it in such a way as to minimize the tenant’s exposure and expenses. So if the landlord uses his handyman to clean spackle the wall and clean the sink, the landlord has not incurred any additional expense and he may not withhold anything from the security deposit on that basis.
It is also extremely important to understand that even if you do damage an item, the landlord is only allowed to collect the depreciated value of that item. This means that if your dog peed on the carpet but the carpet was three years old, it was substantially depreciated and that landlord might only be entitled to recover a small percentage of its replacement value. Landlords regularly charge tenants for new carpeting, new painting, etc., and that is wrong.
A.R.S. § 33-1321(D) also provides that the landlord must return the security deposit within 14 business days after you move. However, that 14 day period does not start until you serve him with a demand. So as soon as you get a new address, you should immediately send a certified letter (so that you have proof of service) to the landlord demanding return of the security deposit. Make sure you provide a return address for him to send it to. If he then does not return it, or return all of it and wrongly withhold a portion, within those 14 business days, which is approximately three weeks, you can sue him for three times the wrongfully withheld amount. Join the Arizona Tenants Union and we will guide you through the process.