Under Indiana law, the landlord can keep all or some of your security deposit for only the following reasons:
- Unpaid rent;
- Unpaid utility charges the lease required you to pay; or
- Damages to the home that are more than “normal wear and tear.”
If your lease says the landlord can keep your deposit for other reasons, that part of the lease may not be enforced.
But what is “normal wear and tear“?
“Normal wear and tear” is a term that Indiana law does not define. It refers to the deterioration of the premises that occurs during normal conditions where the tenant cleans regularly and cares for the premises reasonably.
What a landlord is NOT allowed to take out of a security deposit:
- Routine maintenance: Something that the landlord does for every single apartment isn’t something the landlord can take out of a security deposit. Routine maintenance is different for every landlord (there aren’t any laws that require certain kinds of routine maintenance), but could be carpet cleaning done between each change of tenants, dusting behind the fridge, changing out the shower head.
- Routine carpet cleaning: Sometimes carpet cleaning is necessary because the tenant used the rental in a way that was dirtier than normal, and it’s possible that this is a reason that the tenant could be charged for carpet cleaning. If it is the landlord’s policy to clean the carpet after every turnover, then that sounds pretty routine, rather than specific to the tenant’s abuse.
- Routine painting: Much like routine carpet cleaning, if a tenant did something that caused the landlord to be forced to paint (smoking is a common example), then it is likely legal that the landlord charge the tenant to paint. However, if it is the landlord’s policy to paint after every turnover, then, again, that sounds more routine than specific to the tenant’s abuse.
- Repairs more generally, which were not caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guests.
A guide to normal wear and tear versus damages, based on a guide from HUD:
|Normal Wear & Tear:
|Excessive Tenant Damage:
|A few small nail holes, chips, smudges, dents, scrapes, or cracks in the walls||Gaping holes in walls from abuse, accidents, or neglect. Unapproved paint colors or unprofessional paint jobs. Dozens of nail holes which need patching and repainting.|
|Faded paint||Water damage on wall from hanging plants or constant rubbing of furniture|
|Slightly torn or faded wallpaper||Unapproved wall paper, drawings, or crayon markings on walls|
|Carpet faded or worn thin from walking||Holes, stains, or burns in carpet. Food stains, urine stains, and leaky fish tanks are never “normal”.|
|Dirty or faded lamp or window shades||Torn, stained, or missing lamp and window shades|
|Scuffed varnish on wood floors from regular use||Chipped or gouged wood floors, or excessive scraps from pet nails|
|Dark patches on hardwood floors that have lost their finish over many years||Water stains on wood floors and windowsills caused by windows being left open during rainstorms|
|Doors sticking from humidity||Doors broken, or ripped off hinges|
|Warped cabinet doors that won’t close||Sticky cabinets and interiors|
|Cracked window pane from faulty foundation or building settling||Broken windows from action of the tenant or guests|
|Shower mold due to lack of proper ventilation||Shower mold due to lack of regular cleanings|
|Loose grouting and bathroom tiles||Missing or cracked bathroom tiles|
|Worn or scratched enamel in old bathtubs, sinks, or toilets||Chipped and broken enamel in bathtubs and sinks|
|Rusty shower rod or worn varnish on plumbing fixtures||Missing or bent shower rod or plumbing fixtures|
|Partially clogged sinks or drains caused by aging pipes||Clogged sinks or drains due to any stoppage (hair, diapers, food, etc.), or improper use|
|Moderately dirty mini-blinds or curtains||Missing or broken mini-blinds or curtain|
|Bathroom mirror beginning to “de-silver” (black spots)||Mirrors caked with lipstick and makeup|
|Broken clothes dryer because the thermostat has given out||Dryer that won’t turn at all because it’s been overloaded, or the lint trap was never cleaned out.|
|Worn gaskets on refrigerator doors||Broken refrigerator shelf or dented front panels|
|Smelly garbage disposal||Damaged disposal due to metal, glass, or stones being placed inside|
|Replacement of fluorescent lamps – or any light bulb designed to last for years of continuous use||Replacement of most common light bulbs|
Photo credit: Don Agnello