Security Deposits - Information for Renters
Authored By: Colorado Legal Services
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Frequently Asked Questions about Security Deposits
What is a Security Deposit? +
A Security Deposit is usually one months rent (although there is no limit on the amount of the Security Deposit that the landlord can charge) that is held by the landlord until a renter moves out. It is meant to insure that all rent, bills, and damages are paid before the renter moves out. A Security Deposit may be called several other names such as damage deposit, pet deposit, cleaning fee or last months rent, but they all mean the same thing - a Security Deposit.
Although the landlord keeps this deposit while you are renting, it is still YOUR money. You are entitled to get it back from the landlord if you pay all of your obligations and leave the rental property in proper condition. The landlord cannot require you to waive or give up your right to receive the security deposit back before you have moved out of the property In other words, there is no such thing in Colorado as a “non-refundable” deposit. However, you can agree to allow the landlord to use the security deposit to pay obligations that are owed during the time you are living in the property.
Although not required by law, if your money is kept in a bank you may receive interest on the deposit. Read your lease to see if you are entitled to the interest on your deposit. Try to negotiate that with your landlord before signing the lease.
When is the Landlord allowed to deduct from/keep my Security Deposit? +
A landlord can deduct from your Security Deposit if the landlord has suffered a financial damage that is your responsibility.
Below are some examples:
- If you did not pay all of the rent or other proper charges owed to the landlord
- If you did not pay all of the utilities
- If you damaged the rental unit beyond 'normal wear and tear' (click here for definition)
- If you moved before your lease ended
- If the amount owed is not greater than the amount of the Deposit, you should get the remainder of your Deposit back.
- If you did not have any damages, and paid all rent and utilities, you should get your full Deposit back.
When do I get my Deposit back? +
The landlord has thirty days, unless your lease allows more time (not to exceed 60 days) to return the Deposit or give you an exact and specific (itemized) list of deductions. You must receive your Deposit or an itemized list within that time.
Checklist to ensure to get your Deposit back:
To ensure that you are not charged for damages that you did not make, before moving into the rental unit, make a list of all the damages that you see and have the landlord sign off on the list. If the landlord refuses, have a friend or neighbor witness the damages. It is a good idea for you (and your witness) to take pictures to save for the moving-out process. (Making a video is a good idea too.) Make sure dates are on the pictures and/or video.
Please note: Colorado law does not require that a landlord provide a list to mark damages. However, it is important that you make a list with the damages on it because it tells the landlord what needs to be fixed, and it should also ensure that you are not held responsible for the damages that were already present, especially once you move out. Whether or not the landlord will sign the list, you should keep a copy for yourself and give one to the landlord.
While living in the rental unit...
1) Pay rent in full and on time - keep receipts as proof.
2) Leave the premises on time and with proper notice. For example, your lease may require a tenant to give two months notice that they are not renewing the lease. For a definition of what "proper notice" is, read your lease.
3) Leave the rental unit in the same condition you found it in (excluding "normal wear and tear").
When moving out of the rental unit...
1) Make sure you gave proper notice.
2) Remove all of your furniture.
3) Clean your apartment.
4) You and your landlord should tour your rental space together to determine what needs fixing or needs to be cleaned. Be aware, however, the law does not require the Landlord to do a “walk through” with you. If the landlord is unwilling or unable to be there, try to get an unrelated party (friend, neighbor) to be with you while you do your own walk through, make your lists and take photos of the condition of the property.
5) Once all of your personal belongings are moved out and your rental unit is clean, take pictures (or take a video of the premises).
6) You must leave the landlord a forwarding address so he/she can return the Security Deposit.
7) Ask the landlord to give you a letter stating the following: there are no damages (or ask him/her to provide a list of the specific damages), a written statement that you returned the keys, and a written statement that the landlord has your new address.
8) File a change of address with the post office.
What if my Security Deposit is not returned within the month (or 60 days)? +
If your landlord does not return your security deposit or give you a list of reasons for withholding it within the time specified above (30 to 60 days, depending on the lease provisions), s/he loses any right to keep any part of the security deposit, but can still claim amounts due.
You can write a seven-day demand letter - click here - and scroll down to 'sample seven day demand letter' for a sample letter, and, if the landlord does not send you the full amount of the security deposit within the seven days, you can sue for three times the amount of the security deposit. The statute requires that the 7-day demand letter be sent by first class mail. You can also send a copy by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can show your landlord received it and when.
However, if your landlord does not pick up the certified letter, you can still proceed, based on the letter being sent by first class mail. It is not advisable to send the letter by electronic means (email) because the law specifically requires that the letter be “mailed.” The landlord can still hold you responsible for any unpaid rent or utilities, or any damage you did to the premises, but the amount you owe the landlord would be offset against the triple damages you are entitled to.
If your landlord sends you a list of the damages within the required time (30 to 60 days after you move out), and if you don't agree with the deductions, you can:
1) Call your landlord and try to negotiate.
If this does not work, you can:
2) Send a "seven-day demand letter" by regular and certified mail and an additional letter disputing the charges imposed by your landlord. Keep a copy of both letters for your records. Click here and scroll to "Detailed Dispute Letter" or "General Dispute Letter" to view what information might be included in a letter. Sending a letter by regular mail will give your landlord sufficient notice, even if he or she refuses the certified mail.
3) If the landlord does not send the wrongfully withheld Deposit within the time stated in the lease, you could sue in:
a) Small Claims division of County Court (click here for all Small Claims forms on the Colorado Judicial Branch site), or
b) County Court under the Simplified Civil Action procedure.
c) Talk to a lawyer who will take the case and charge you only if s/he can recover attorney's fees as allowed by law.
Things to consider when going to Court over this matter.
1) The landlord has the right to prove that you or your friends damaged the unit beyond "normal wear and tear" or that you did not pay rent or other legitimate charges. The landlord may still sue for damages to the rental unit or money owed. However, if s/he has not complied with the Security Deposit statute, any money owed to her/him should be offset against the triple damages you are entitled to.
2) The Court will expect you to show receipts or other evidence to prove that you paid rent, any other amounts you were required to pay, and the Security Deposit. (Make sure to ask for a receipt each time you pay the rent!)
3) If the Court finds that the landlord has wrongfully and willfully withheld the Deposit, you could possibly recover the amount of the Deposit times three. You could also be able to recover reasonable attorney's fees.
4) If you lose when going to Court, if there is a provision in the lease for the losing party to pay these fees, you may have to pay for the landlord's attorney fees. Read your lease to determine if you would have to pay fees if you lose in Court. This is important because a landlord will often settle with you rather than risk paying your attorney's fees.
Where do I file if I want to go to Court? +
Step One: Make sure that you have grounds (evidence) to file.
1) Expiration of the one month period (or up to 60 days if provided in the lease) and neither a refund and nor an explanation has been provided to you, or
2) You have received a letter within the required time but disagree with the landlord's claims or damages. If you disagree with your landlord claims, you can complete a dispute letter (click here and scroll to sample dispute letter) and send to your landlord, AND
3) In either case, seven days have passed since the landlord's received a warning letter (a sample "seven day demand letter" can be found by clicking here)
Step Two: Determine what your damages are.
1) If you determine that your damages are $7,500 or below you can file in the Small Claims Court (see A below). If you determine that your damages are above $7,500 and up to $15,000, you will need to file a Simplified Civil Action in County Court (see B below.)
A) Filing in the Small Claims Division of County Court (your claim is $7,500 or less)
Step One - Complete the Small Claims forms. Click here for all Small Claims forms on the Judicial Branch website.
Your Complaint must have the following:
- complete names and addresses of you and your Landlord,
- the amount that you are seeking, and
- a brief statement of why the amount is owed.
The bill must be one owed directly to you and not to anyone else.
Once you have filled out all of the papers, take them to the courthouse where your landlord resides. The Clerk of Court will give you a Court date, and put that date on the papers to be given to your landlord.
Step Two - "Service of Complaint." This means that you must have someone deliver the Complaint. (In Small Claims Court it is called the “Notice, Claim and Summons to Appear”) to the landlord. The clerk will explain the various ways the Complaint may be given to the Defendant (in this case the landlord).
One method of Service is by certified mail, return receipt requested, notifying the defendant (the Landlord in this case) of the date and time to appear for trial. If the Defendant cannot be served by mail, then a process server, independent third party or sheriff must be used. If you use a process server or a Sheriff it will cost money (call a process server or the Sheriff's office to get an estimate). (Click here for an explanation of Service of Process.)
If you don't have the money, consider having a third party deliver the Complaint. A third party means someone who is not involved in the Court case and is over 18.
You can also ask the landlord to waive being served by in person and ask that it be mailed. If the landlord refuses then they would have to pay for the Service if the landlord is found to owe you money. You can find a form for this at the Clerk's office.
Some, but not all, Sheriff's offices will serve the papers without charge if the Court has waived the filing fee in your case. You can ask the court if they will waive your filing fee by completing and filing JDF 205 with the Court. Be sure to check to see if you can get the papers served without charge. See note below.
Note: Click here and select the document at Filing Fees JDF1, to find more information about filing fees on the Colorado State Court website. Remember you can always request a fee waiver. Find the form on the Court website here (JDF 205, scroll down to Motion to File Without Payment and Supporting Financial Affidavit ) to be filled out and printed from your computer.
Three forms are required to file a Complaint:
1. Complaint - (white if you get from the court clerk)
2. Summons to Answer - (green if you get from the court clerk)
3. Answer - (yellow if you get from the court clerk)
Get the forms off of the state court website by clicking here, or at the County Court Clerk's office.
It's important that you fill out the proper information on each form. Keep copies of all of the forms you have filled out for your personal records!
Once you have them filled out, copies of the Complaint, Summons to Answer, and Answer forms should be returned to the office of the County Court where you will be filing the case. You should be sure that the Clerk gives the case a "docket number", along with the return date (a date for your landlord to appear in Court). This will help insure that the landlord will have a deadline by which to answer the Complaint.
NOTE: The landlord must be given at least (ten) days from the time s/he is served in which to answer the Summons if you are suing in County Court. If you are suing in Small Claims Court, the Notice, Claim, and Summons to Appear must be served on the landlord at least 15 days before the court date. The landlord is served with a copy of the Summons and the Complaint, and a blank Answer form to use to file a response. The Clerk will put the return date on the Summons.
You should go to the Court on the return date to see if your landlord responds. If s/he does, the County Court will generally set a date for further action on the case, leading up to a trial of the case. If you are suing in Small Claims Court your trial will be on the same day as the return date. If the landlord does not appear, you can ask the Court to grant you what you have requested in the Complaint. In some Courts, a free mediator must be present, and the Judge may require you to meet with the mediator.
What do I need when I go to Court? +
If the case is going to trial, it is important to be prepared.
1) You must be able to show you have paid all amounts due, including the Security Deposit, and that you have not damaged the residence beyond normal wear and tear. Gather written evidence, including copies of the lease, cancelled checks, damage deposits, letters, replies, photos and any videos from your move in and move out, and bring witnesses who can testify to the condition. Make copies of the demand letter and the return receipt from the post office.
2) Before you go to trial, write down everything you remember.
3) Click here for more helpful tips about representing yourself in Court.
4) If you need an attorney, see if Colorado Legal Services can help you in County Court. Attorneys are not permitted to represent a plaintiff in Small Claims Court unless the Defendant has an attorney file a written notice of appearance at least 7 days before the court date.
Apply online for Colorado Legal Services here to see if you are eligible (there are financial eligibility guidelines based on funder rules, also description of legal issue and resource availability will be considered), or go to the Colorado Bar Association's website's "Find a Lawyer" section at this link. ( Enter your legal issue, city, and click next to "Accepting Alternative Fee Arrangements" at the link to see a list of attorneys who agreed to work with individuals regarding fees. Sometimes they will not charge a retainer or will charge less than they normally do per hour.)
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This communication is made available by Colorado Legal Services, Inc., (CLS), as a public service and is issued to inform not to advise. No person should attempt to interpret or apply any law without the assistance of an attorney. The opinions expressed in this communication are those of the authors and not those of CLS or its funding sources.
If you need advice on this or any other legal problem, consult an attorney of your own choosing. If you cannot afford an attorney, talk to Colorado Legal Services, 303.837.1313. If you think you may qualify for Colorado Legal Services, go to applyonlinecls.org to complete your application online.