When you rent a house or apartment, you'll most likely be asked for a security deposit along with your first month's (and perhaps also last month's) rent before you move in. The deposit is the landlord's way of ensuring that they have money to cover the cost of damages, cleaning, and/or unpaid rent. That's a lot of money to pay at once, but keep in mind that you will mostly likely get all or most of your deposit back at the end of the lease term. States recognize the need of renters to get that deposit back as soon as possible, since they likely will have to pay another deposit for their next rental.
Your security deposit return is governed by state laws that define how long your landlord has to return it (along with other deposit-related provisions). Here are some guidelines on how long a landlord typically has to provide you with your security deposit return. Always check your state's laws, because many time-periods have exceptions to these general rules:
14 days: Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Nebraska, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington.
20 days: Delaware, Rhode Island.
21 days: California, Idaho, Minnesota.
30 days: Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Wyoming.
One month: Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana.
45 days: District of Columbia, Indiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Virginia.
No deadline: Tennessee, West Virginia.
Others: Alabama (35 days), Florida (15 to 60 days - depending on whether the tenant disputes the deductions), New York ("a reasonable time"), Oregon (31 days).
While "a reasonable time" is up for interpretation, with respect to New York's security deposit return deadline, this ultimately is decided on a case-by-case basis in small claims court (should it get to that point).
If you believe your security deposit return is overdue, inform your landlord in writing before taking it to court. Also keep in mind that most state laws establish a limit for how much a landlord may charge for a security deposit, typically equal to the amount of one month's rent.
Learn More About Security Deposit Return Timelines from a Lawyer
It was hard enough just coming up with the money for the security deposit when you signed the lease last year. But now you're trying to put a deposit on a new place and you're still waiting to get it back. What can you do? If your landlord hasn't complied with state law, and you've already sent them a letter asking for payment, you may need to file a claim. Get started today by talking to a skilled landlord-tenant attorney near you.