When you sign a lease for an apartment, your landlord will probably require you to pay a security deposit. Later, when your lease ends and you vacate the apartment, you'll want your security deposit back as soon as possible.
How much a landlord may collect from you as a security deposit varies across the United States. In addition, states have their own laws that regulate how long a landlord may take to return your deposit, whether you're owed interest, the consequences for a landlord who fails to follow the law, and more.
Q: Why would a Pennsylvania landlord collect a security deposit from tenants?
A: Pennsylvania landlords aren't required to collect a security deposit from tenants. But because it's in a landlord's best interest to do so, it has become common practice. When a landlord collects a security deposit, it's a way of helping to ensure that the tenant will keep the apartment in good shape, pay the rent, and not suddenly break the lease and disappear, which could mean the tenant doesn't get the deposit returned.
Q: What's the most a Pennsylvania landlord can get from a tenant as a security deposit?
A: A Pennsylvania landlord can require tenants to pay up to two months' rent as a security deposit for the first year of occupancy, and up to one month's rent during the remaining years of occupancy. This means if you're renting an apartment in Pennsylvania and have given your landlord a security deposit equaling two months' rent, your landlord will need to return some of the deposit to you if you reach your second year. Also, after five years, the landlord can't increase the amount of a tenant's security deposit even if the landlord raises the tenant's monthly rent.
Q: How long does a Pennsylvania landlord have to return a tenant's security deposit?
A: A Pennsylvania landlord has up to 30 days after the end of a tenancy to return the security deposit.
Q: May a Pennsylvania landlord legally keep some or all of a tenant's security deposit?
A: Yes. A landlord may apply some or all of a tenant's security deposit to cover back rent and damages caused by the tenant. If a landlord is returning any amount less than the full security deposit, the landlord has up to 30 days to send written notice to the tenant, in which the deductions are itemized.
Q: How can a tenant ensure she gets her security deposit from a Pennsylvania landlord?
A: The tenant should give the landlord a forwarding address for the return of the security deposit and/or an itemized accounting. If a tenant doesn't take this step, the Pennsylvania landlord must mail the deposit and/or accounting to the tenant's last known address, which could be the tenant's recently vacated apartment, or personally deliver the deposit and/or accounting to the tenant.
Q: What happens if a Pennsylvania landlord doesn't return the deposit on time?
A: If a landlord doesn't send the security deposit or itemized accounting within the 30-day period, the landlord must pay the tenant twice the amount of the original security deposit, plus court and attorney's fees.
Q: Is a Pennsylvania landlord required to keep security deposits in separate accounts?
A: Pennsylvania law has specific requirements for landlords that apply if the amount of a tenant's security deposit is greater than $100. If a tenant's security deposit is over $100, the landlord must deposit it into an escrow account at an approved bank, and the tenant must get written notification from the landlord about the name and location of the bank as well as identification of the account. A Pennsylvania landlord must put such deposits in an interest-bearing account starting with the third year of a lease. At the end of that third year, the landlord must begin to distribute the annual interest to the tenant, however the landlord is entitled to subtract a 1% administrative fee. Alternatively, a landlord may put up a bond to guarantee that the tenant will get back the security deposit with interest at the end of the lease term.