Florida Security Deposit Laws in 2024

Limit on Security Deposits in Florida

Under Florida law, landlords are allowed to charge a security deposit equal to a maximum of two months' rent when signing a lease. For example, if the rental rate is $1,000 per month, the landlord can legally collect up to $2,000 as a security deposit from the tenant. 

The security deposit serves as a form of insurance for the landlord to cover potential unpaid rent or any damages to the property beyond normal wear and tear. However, the deposit amount is capped at 2 months' rent by statutes to protect tenants from excessive fees.

Landlords cannot demand additional security deposits above this legal limit when signing or renewing a lease agreement in Florida. Doing so would violate state statutes and could make them liable to refund the full illegal amounts charged. Both tenants and landlords should understand this critical cap on security deposits in the state.

Allowable Deductions from Deposits

Under Florida law, landlords may legally deduct funds from a tenant's security deposit to cover:

Unpaid rent

If a tenant moves out with unpaid rent or other outstanding charges owed under the lease, the landlord can deduct these amounts from the deposit. This includes any rent, fees, or bills that were due before the tenant vacated.

Costs to repair damages beyond normal wear and tear

Landlords can deduct reasonable costs to repair damage to the unit caused by the tenant or their guests that exceeds normal wear and tear. This could include damage to the floors, walls, appliances, plumbing fixtures, etc. The landlord typically must provide receipts or invoices showing the actual repair costs.

To deduct for any damages or unpaid charges, the landlord must provide the tenant with an itemized list of all deductions along with any documentation within 30 days of move-out. Minor cleaning, scuffs, fading paint and carpet wear from ordinary inhabitation are considered normal wear and tear that cannot be deducted.

Normal Wear and Tear Definition

Under Florida law, normal wear and tear to a rental unit cannot be deducted from a tenant's security deposit. Normal wear and tear is defined as the expected decline in condition that occurs when a rental is used as intended, without negligence, recklessness, accident, or abuse. 

Some examples of normal wear and tear that cannot be charged against a security deposit include:

  • Minor scuff marks on walls or floors from regular use and moving furniture  
  • Faded paint, wallpaper or carpeting from sunlight and aging
  • Minor marks/scratches on windows, doors, tile, cabinets, plumbing fixtures or appliances from regular usage 
  • Worn out keys or locks over time

Damages that go beyond normal wear and tear can be deducted if they are due to the tenant's actions or negligence. These could include stains, holes in walls, broken fixtures, or damage requiring replacement or repairs beyond routine maintenance. The burden is on the landlord to prove the tenant is responsible.

Deadline to Return Security Deposits  

Landlords in Florida must return any remaining portion of a tenant's security deposit within 15 days after the tenant vacates the property. Per [Florida statute 83.49(3)](https://www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2021/83.49), the landlord has 15 days to send the remaining deposit amount along with an itemized list of any deductions taken from the deposit.

If the landlord fails to meet this 15-day deadline, they forfeit the right to retain any portion of the security deposit. Even if damages or unpaid rent exceed the deposit amount, the landlord cannot legally deduct anything if they missed the deadline.

Some key points regarding Florida's security deposit return deadline:

  • The 15-day countdown begins once the tenant officially moves out and returns the keys. Any dispute about the actual move-out date will need to be settled in court.
  • The deposit must be sent via first-class mail with tracking to the tenant's last known mailing address. 
  • If the landlord cannot determine the tenant's forwarding address after a diligent effort, the remaining deposit can be held.
  • If unreturned deposits are willfully withheld by the landlord, the tenant my recover up to 3 times the deposit amount in damages.

By following Florida law regarding security deposit return deadlines, landlords can avoid major penalties. Tenants should also understand the 15-day rule in order to exercise their rights.

Itemized List of Deductions Requirement

Landlords are required under Florida statutes to provide tenants with an itemized list of any deductions from the security deposit within 30 days. This list must be written and include the exact amount deducted and a general description of the damages, unpaid rent, or other charges that are the basis for each deduction. Landlords must only deduct for damages that exceed normal wear and tear, unpaid rent, or other charges due under the terms of the lease. 

Examples of areas that are not subject to deductions:

  • Dirtiness or needing cleaning
  • Small nail holes from hanging pictures
  • Fading paint or worn carpeting from ordinary use

Landlords must also provide receipts or invoices for any charges included on the itemized list. The itemization should include the name and address of the person or entity charging for the work, along with a description of the actual repair or replacement if the work has already been completed.

If a landlord fails to provide the itemized list within 30 days, they forfeit their right to keep any portion of the security deposit under Florida law. So it's crucial for landlords to supply this documentation within the required timeframe to avoid having automatically return the full deposit amount.

Interest on Security Deposits 

When Interest Must Be Paid to Tenants

Florida law states that landlords must pay 5% annual interest on security deposits if they hold the deposit for more than 1 year. Interest starts accruing once the one-year mark hits. For example, if a tenant puts down a security deposit on January 1st, 2022, and moves out on December 31st, 2023, the landlord would need to pay interest earned for the full 24 months that they held the deposit.

The interest belongs to the tenant and must be paid at the time the landlord returns the deposit, within 30 days after the tenancy ends. If the landlord fails to pay the accrued interest in that timeframe, the tenant can sue to recover twice the amount wrongfully withheld.

There are a few exceptions where interest may not apply:

  • Deposits held less than 1 year 
  • Owner-occupied duplex units 
  • Transient rentals under 6 months
  • Commercial property rentals  

However, for most standard 1-year residential lease agreements in Florida, tenants have a right to receive 5% annual interest starting after the first year of tenancy. This interest penalty helps deter landlords from unjustly holding onto deposits for long periods of time after tenants move out.

Nonrefundable Fees  

Florida law permits landlords to collect a nonrefundable fee along with a refundable security deposit.

There is no specific limit on the amount of a nonrefundable move-in fee that a landlord can charge, as long as it is reasonable and agreed to in the lease. Fees for cleaning, background checks, application processing, and administrative work are examples of nonrefundable fees that are generally considered reasonable.

These fees must be clearly stated as nonrefundable in the lease agreement or rental contract. Tenants cannot expect to get them back at the end of the lease like with a security deposit.

Nonrefundable fees cannot be used to cover unpaid rent, damages, or other end-of-lease costs. They belong wholly to the landlord upon being paid by the tenant.

If a landlord improperly uses a nonrefundable fee to cover costs that should be deducted from the security deposit, the tenant may sue to recover the nonrefundable amount.

Disputing Deposit Deductions  

If a tenant believes the landlord has made unfair or excessive deductions from their security deposit, they have several options for disputing the deductions under Florida law:

Send a Letter Disputing the Deductions

The tenant can send a formal letter to the landlord listing the disputed deductions and requesting a refund of those amounts. This letter should provide a detailed explanation of why the tenant believes the deductions are invalid or excessive. Supporting documentation like photos or repair estimates can be included. The letter should be sent via certified mail to create a record.  

If the landlord does not respond or issue an updated refund, the next step is to file a lawsuit in small claims court (see below).

File in Small Claims Court  

Tenants have the right to sue landlords in small claims court for the return of wrongfully withheld deposit money. The maximum claim cannot exceed $8,000 in Florida small claims courts. Filing fees apply but hiring a lawyer is not required. 

The tenant will need to provide evidence showing why the deductions were invalid or excessive. Photos, videos, inspection reports, repair estimates, and copies of the statutes can help the tenant prove their case. If the court rules in favor of the tenant, the landlord may be ordered to return the deposit money plus damages.

Hire a Lawyer 

For more complex cases with higher amounts of disputed deductions, the tenant may need to hire a landlord-tenant attorney. An attorney can provide legal counsel, negotiate with the landlord, and file a formal lawsuit if needed. Attorney fees may make this option cost-prohibitive for smaller deposit amounts.

File a Complaint with a Regulatory Agency  

If a landlord has repeatedly withheld deposits unfairly, a tenant can file a complaint with a regulatory body like the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation or their local housing authority. An investigation may compel the landlord to correct illegal behaviors related to security deposits. However, this avenue is more focused on enforcing compliance rather than recovering an individual's deposit funds.

Transfers in Property Ownership

When a rental property in Florida is sold or transferred to a new owner, the rules regarding the security deposit also transfer to the new owner. 

The original landlord must transfer the full security deposit amount to the new owner at the time of sale. This ensures the tenant's deposit is not lost or mishandled during the transaction.

Florida law requires the original landlord to provide written notice to the tenant that the deposit has been transferred to the new owner. This notice must include the new owner's name, address, and contact information. 

Once the security deposit has been transferred, the new owner assumes full responsibility and liability for the deposit. They must adhere to all Florida laws regarding permissible deductions, deadlines for refunds, and proper notice to the tenant.

If any deductions are taken from the deposit after the sale, the new landlord is solely responsible for providing an itemized list of deductions to the tenant within 30 days. 

Tenants' rights regarding interest, refunds, and disputing unfair deductions remain unchanged when a property is transferred. The security deposit belongs to the tenant and transfers with them, regardless of who the owner is.

Tips for Tenants

Tenants can take certain steps to protect their rights to a full security deposit refund in Florida:

Document the condition of the rental upon move-in and move-out

Take dated photos and videos showing the condition of the walls, floors, appliances, etc. This protects against unfair damage claims. Get a witness signature on the documentation if possible.

Keep accurate records of rent payments and maintenance requests

This provides evidence if a dispute arises over unpaid rent or repairs needed due to tenant negligence. 

Review the lease and comply with all requirements

Pay rent on time, give proper notice for ending the lease, and leave the property clean and undamaged to avoid legitimate deposit deductions.

Attempt to resolve deposit disputes directly with the landlord first

If needed, send a formal letter disputing improper deductions and request the remainder of the deposit back. 

Consult a local tenant rights organization

They can review the case and help compose a demand letter for the full deposit refund.

File a lawsuit in small claims court

If the landlord still refuses to return the full deposit, taking them to court may be the only recourse. Gather documentation to support the case.

Consider renters insurance

It provides additional protection in the event the deposit is wrongfully withheld. The policy may help cover the costs of disputed damages.

Get everything in writing

All agreements related to the security deposit should be made in a written format to avoid confusion. 

Following these tips can help tenants in Florida avoid deposit disputes, and recover their full deposit when the law entitles them to it. Asserting their rights legally can motivate landlords to promptly refund deposits.

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