Security Deposits? In Massachusetts, They Are Not Worth The Risks

Many term leases run from September to August.  For these leases, today is the last day for Landlords to take care of their Tenant’s security deposit. Landlords must return deposits within 30 days after the Tenant vacates for a tenant at will or the 30 days after the expiration of a term lease.

For the most part, a Landlord may deduct unpaid rent in certain circumstances and the cost of damage to the premises, reasonable wear and tear excepted.  Landlords must follow the law precisely or risk triple damages (three times the security deposit) and attorneys fees.  The Landlord must provide an itemized list of damages, itemizing in detail the damage and the repair necessitated. The Landlord must provide written evidence, indicating the actual or estimated repair cost. Landlords must sign the itemized list under the pains and penalties of perjury. Be careful, what constitutes a repair as opposed to maintenance or some other cost is a tricky proposition.

Keeping part or all of a security deposit, without strictly adhering to the law is costlier than the damages.  The good news for Landlords is they can still seek their damages, but need to file a separate lawsuit.  The bad news is that many Tenants are judgment proof and the Landlord will never recover.

I advise all my Landlord clients to not collect a security deposit.  It is too complex for the casual Landlord and even some professionals. If a Landlord violates the law, the only cure is to return the security deposit immediately upon demand.


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