Security Deposit Cases:

Your landlord may be violating Texas law if they fail to refund your security deposit or deduct excessive charges...

A security deposit is a sum of money placed by the tenant with their landlord to protect the landlord against property damages or other lease violations. Unfortunately, some landlords in Texas treat security deposits as a way to make extra money off of a customer whose business the landlord has already lost. Thus, it is not uncommon for landlords to "pad" or inflate the expenses they deduct from a tenant's deposit.

What protections does Texas law provide tenants?

Although not as substantial as they could be, Texas law does provide some security deposit protections for tenants in Subchapter C of Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code. In general, Subchapter C provides tenants with four important protections:

First, your landlord has a deadline. In Texas, a landlord must, with a few exceptions, return your security deposit within thirty days after the tenant moves out and provides a forwarding address. To trigger the thirty day deadline, a tenant needs to do two things: (a) make sure you comply with any provisions in your lease about giving your landlord advanced notice of move out; and (b) provide your landlord with a forwarding address (that is, tell them where to mail your deposit).

Second, your landlord must provide you with information. Texas law requires that if your landlord keeps some or all of your security deposit, your landlord must send you an itemized list and description of all deductions from your security deposit. If your landlord fails to do so in bad faith, they forfeit all right to deduct any money (or come after you later) for damages to the property. (However, an exception to this rule does exist - if you owe rent and there isn't a dispute about how much rent you owe, your landlord doesn't have to give you an accounting. Thus, if you do dispute the amount of rent that's owed, you should make sure your landlord knows about it.)

Third, your landlord can't deduct money from your security deposit from "normal wear and tear." Section 92.001 of the Texas Property Code defines "normal wear and tear" as "deterioration that results from the intended use of a dwelling," but whether a given item of damage is normal wear and tear is a fact issue. Your landlord has the burden of proof on this issue, but it is always a good idea to be prepared to rebut any argument or evidence your landlord might present.

Fourth, if your landlord charges too much you could get triple your money back plus $100. More precisely, Section 92.109 of the Property Code says that if your landlord withholds money from the deposit in bad faith, you are entitled to three times the money wrongfully withheld, $100, and your reasonable attorneys fees. The landlord has the burden of proof to show that any deductions from the security deposit were reasonable. Plus, if the landlord fails to provide you with an accounting by their deadline to do so, bad faith on the landlord's part is presumed.

For more information on security deposits, see The Texas Advisor webpage.