The move out inspection and security deposits in Pennsylvania

Today, I am going to talk about the return of your security deposit here in Pennsylvania.  I am going to be specific to Pennsylvania because that is the law I know. Various states have various levels of protection. Also, please remember, this isn’t legal advice, just basic information. Tenant or landlord, if you run into a problem, you should hire an attorney.

Pennsylvania is pretty friendly to tenants as the law goes, and there are quite a few protections for tenants. In fact, violating landlord/tenant law can result in serious consequences for the landlord. Of course, if the tenant violates his/her lease, this can result in serious consequences for the tenant. This may include eviction, lawsuits, owing a lot of money to the landlord, and credit problems.

How much security can a landlord seek?

In Pennsylvania, the maximum amount of security deposit a landlord can seek from you is two months. In addition, once you have lived in an apartment for a year, the extra month must be returned to you. Very few landlords do this.

What happens when you move out?

I strongly recommend you do a move out inspection with your landlord. This way you know exactly what the landlord is going to charge you for when s/he sends you back your security deposit. Typically you can set up a time to meet and do the inspection. At that point, you can hand over the keys, have the landlord go through the place, and then have the landlord provide you a list.

How much time does the landlord have to return your deposit?

In Pennsylvania, the landlord must return your deposit and/or provide a listing of charges within 30 days.  The time begins running when the lease ends or when the tenant hands the keys over to the landlord. Whichever comes first. If the landlord fails to return the money and/or provide the listing within the 30 days s/he is required to pay twice the amount of the security deposit to the tenant.

Preventing problems

Some landlords, most I think, are very fair in the move out process. A lot of problems can be prevented by taking pictures/video before you move in, and again when you move out, and insisting on a move out inspection.

Many landlords will do a very fast walk through with you before you move in, noting any problems on a list. You won’t see all of the problems when you do this. Provide a list of any additional problems to the landlord as you find them, but you need to do this quickly. Otherwise, the landlord may accuse you of creating the problem. Provide the information in writing. Keep copies of everything. Again, take pictures or video of any issues right before you move in. That way the landlord cannot claim you caused the problems when you move out.

Common Issues on Move Out

Cleanliness – You should make sure the apartment is as clean as it was when you moved in. Generally, I find it easier to replace some things than to clean them. For example, drip pans on a stove are impossible to get clean without an incredible amount of work. You can replace them for under $15. Balance the time and your effort.

Carpet – Carpet is a big issue. Some landlords will try to get you to pay to replace the carpet for them. If you have stained or damaged a carpet to the point where it cannot be restored, then you will have to pay to replace it. If your landlord tells you that the carpet must be replaced here is what you need to do.

1. Ask why and see if what s/he says is reasonable.
2. Inform the landlord that you require proof of when the carpet was installed, what the standard life of that carpet is, and what the carpet s/he is replacing costs to buy and install.
3. Calculate the remaining value of the carpet. For example, if the carpet has a standard life of 4 years, and it is the end of the 3rd year, the carpet only has 1/4th of its life left. You should only be required to pay 1/4 the cost of replacing the carpet.  If it is the end of the 4th year, there is no remaining value to the carpet.

Paint – Sometimes I read about landlords trying to charge a tenant to pay to repaint an entire house or apartment. Just like carpet, paint has a standard life. If the paint is damaged beyond what is normal, the landlord can require for you to pay for the remaining value. I always recommend that tenants ask for small cans of paint so they can repair any damage that occurs during move in or over time. Magic eraser sponges are great at removing scuffs and minor stains.

Holes in walls – Your lease or the rules attached to your lease should deal with whether you are allowed to hang pictures using nails and what kind of nails you may use. If it doesn’t, before you hang anything, ask, and get the answer in writing. If the landlord says no nails, then you are out of luck. Look around for alternatives (don’t use regular sticky tape, that stuff never comes off.) If the landlord says yes, find out if you are required to repair nail holes. Some landlords just want you to take the nails out. If there are larger holes you need to repair them, have them properly repaired, or expect the damage to be deducted from your security deposit.

Provide a Forwarding Address – In order for your landlord to pay you back your security deposit and/or provide a list of charges, s/he needs a forwarding address. If you don’t provide one, the landlord will send the information to your last known address. Don’t blame the landlord if s/he cannot find you because you didn’t provide the information. The courts won’t blame the landlord for this either.

Pay for your damage – If you did damage, expect to pay for it. You are not responsible for reasonable and normal wear and tear. That is it. If you made a mess, left holes, left stuff, left dirt, destroyed the carpet, had pets that made a mess, you can expect to pay for it.

Verbal promises are useless – Verbal promises and statements are worth the paper they are written on. Get everything in writing. If the landlord says it is ok for you to paint, get that in writing.

Your lease controls – Your lease dictates many things, though it cannot change certain rights. If your lease states you must have the carpets professionally cleaned when you move out, then you must do so. If not, your landlord is entitled to do so and remove the fee from your security deposit. The same goes for painting and carpet. If the lease states you must pay for painting, then you must pay for it. Please be sure to read your lease carefully. If your lease does not state these things, the control will be by statute and common law (meaning what judges have previously ruled in similar cases.) Some items, such as your right to have double your security deposit given if not returned appropriately, cannot be altered by a lease.


Make certain you follow the proper move in and move out inspection protocol when you rent a home or apartment. This way you can protect yourself from getting charged for items that were damaged when you moved in and not damaged when you move out. Also, don’t allow anyone to try to force you to pay the entire replacement cost of items that have depreciated in value.  Please make sure you leave the apartment or house how it looked when you moved in, leaving aside normal wear and tear. Everyone on both sides of the equation is a human being. Treat each other fairly.

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