Landlord charged me more than legal security deposit


New Member
In the state of VA, the legal limit for a security deposit is two months rent. My landlord charged me more than that for no other reason that I was not still in the military. I have perfect credit and met all other requirements to lease. The contract is already signed. Is there any legal recourse I can take or can he just get away with that?
Yes, he can just get away with it. You let him get away with it by agreeing to it. The time to resist it was before signing when you had the opportunity to walk away. Did you even point this out to the LL before signing? If so, with what results?

As a practical matter, what you can do now is break the lease, move out if you have already moved in, lose your deposit, hire a lawyer, sue the LL and hope to collect some day if you win a judgment.

Do you want to do all that? Can you do all that? Do you have the money to do all that?

If not then, yes, he gets away with it.

People who don't insist on their rights, lose them.

Maybe this government agency has some suggestions for you:

Or find a local legal aid office.
The contract is already signed. Is there any legal recourse I can take or can he just get away with that?

You may want to see a local landlord/tenant attorney about this. If you've not paid the deposit yet, you may be in a good position to offer the landlord only the two months rent and point out the state law that limits the amount of security deposits. If the landlord refuses to do that, you probably may simply find another place to live that will follow the law and only charge you two months rent as a security deposit.

The present landlord would then have to sue you to get what he claims is due. My guess is that any attorney he consults will tell him to just forget it because that illegal provision in the lease will put the landlord in an awkward position. He cannot successfully sue for the unpaid security deposit because that term in the contract violates the law. He may try to sue you for damages (lost rent in this case) claiming breach of contract. Here it will matter whether the security deposit provision simply makes it impossible for the landlord to enforce the security deposit part of the lease or whether that illegal provision makes the entire lease voidable by you. That's the question that you need to ask a local landlord tenant attorney about.

If he may still sue for unpaid rent (and just give up on the deposit) he may only sue for the actual rent lost. If he finds another tenant right away, there wouldn't be much, if anything, he'd get from suing you. Given that it will cost the landlord to pay the attorney, court costs, etc to do that, it may well be a losing proposition for the landlord to even try. He may conclude that just moving on and renting to someone else is the best thing for him to do.
Would I have legal grounds to terminate the lease early due to the illegal provision in the lease?

I provided you with the information, further research is within your baliwick.

Have Specific Questions About Virginia Security Deposit Laws? Ask a Lawyer

Tenants and landlords each have specific legal rights and duties. If you feel that your landlord has unlawfully refused to return your security deposit, or if you're a landlord trying to understand your obligations under the law, it's best to speak with a qualified Virginia landlord-tenant attorney near you.

Security Deposit Receipt Requirements in Virginia

In Virginia, landlords are required to provide tenants with a written receipt for any security deposit collected. This receipt must include the following information:

  • Name and address of the person or entity who received the security deposit
  • Amount of security deposit collected
  • Purpose of the security deposit (i.e. "Security deposit for rental unit 123 Main St.")
  • Date the security deposit was received
If the rental property changes ownership, the new landlord must notify the tenant in writing where the security deposit is now being held. This notification must include the new owner's name and address.

The receipt provides documentation that the tenant did in fact pay a security deposit and allows them to track where it is being held. Having a record of the deposit amount and who is holding it assists tenants if any disputes arise over the return of the deposit when moving out.

Virginia landlords should be sure to always provide a receipt that contains their name and address when collecting a security deposit. This receipt helps avoid potential misunderstandings and demonstrates compliance with Virginia's security deposit laws. Keeping detailed records of security deposit transactions is key.

Returning Security Deposits in Virginia

In Virginia, landlords have 45 days after a tenant moves out to return the security deposit along with an itemized list of any deductions. This 45 day timeframe is specified in the Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.

Within 45 days of when the tenancy ends and the tenant vacates the property, the landlord must send the remaining deposit amount along with a written itemized list of any deductions for damages, unpaid rent, or other permissible charges. If the landlord fails to meet this 45 day deadline, the tenant can take legal action to recover up to twice the amount of their security deposit.

It is crucial for landlords to properly itemize any deductions from the security deposit and provide sufficient evidence for the charges within the 45 days. Under Virginia law, landlords cannot make deductions for normal wear and tear. They also cannot charge for routine cleaning or repainting to prepare the unit for the next tenant if it is within normal standards. The landlord must prove that any withheld deposit funds are for legitimate damages beyond ordinary use, unpaid rent, late fees, or other breach of lease.

If the landlord does not provide the itemized deductions within 45 days, the tenant can sue to recover double their full deposit amount, even if some deductions would have been valid. To avoid penalties, landlords should carefully inspect the property, properly document any damages, and return the remaining deposit with detailed explanations within 45 days after the tenant moves out. Following Virginia's clearly defined processes will help prevent deposit disputes.

Security Deposit Disputes and Penalties in Virginia

If a landlord wrongfully withholds a security deposit in Virginia, the tenant has several options for recourse:

  • The tenant can send a demand letter requesting the return of the full deposit. This puts the landlord on notice that the tenant disputes the deductions.
  • The tenant can file a lawsuit against the landlord in small claims court if the amount is less than $5,000. The tenant can sue for up to double the amount of the security deposit.
  • If the landlord fails to return the deposit within 45 days, they forfeit their right to make any deductions. The tenant can sue for double the deposit amount even if deductions would have been justified.
  • If the tenant wins in small claims court, the judge can award double damages plus court costs and attorney fees.
  • The tenant can submit a complaint to the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation. The complaint could lead to an investigation and disciplinary action against the landlord.
  • The tenant can leave online reviews detailing the improper actions of the landlord to warn future tenants.
In summary, Virginia law provides penalties to incentivize landlords to properly handle security deposits. Tenants have viable options to recover wrongfully withheld deposits through legal action in court or complaints to the state licensing department.

My landlord charged me more than that for no other reason that I was not still in the military. . . . The contract is already signed.

Let me rephrase this: You are not in the military (not sure why this needed to be mentioned, but whatever). On [date], you entered into negotiations with a landlord to rent residential premises. On [date], the landlord presented you with a lease that requires a security deposit that is greater than 2x the monthly rent. Despite this provision being contrary to the applicable state law, on [date], you signed the lease. The first day of the term of the lease is [date].

Is that an accurate rephrasing? If not, please explain what I got wrong. It would also be helpful if you filled in the dates. Finally, when you mentioned to the landlord that the security deposit provision was contrary to the applicable law, how did the landlord respond?