Mobile rental property owners need to have a solid understanding of security deposit law. The state of Alabama is specific when it comes to how much you can charge and when you need to return the deposit. Tenants are also likely to dispute any charges that they believe are unfair.
Before you collect or return a security deposit, make sure you understand the legal requirements. Document the condition of your property before your tenant moves in so you can compare it to the condition after move-out.
Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself from security deposit disputes and legal claims.
Collecting a Mobile Security Deposit
Landlords collect a security deposit to protect themselves against property damage and unpaid rent.
In Alabama, you cannot collect more than the equivalent of one month’s rent. If a tenant is moving in with a pet, you can charge more. You can also charge more if there is an increased liability or risk to the landlord. It’s tricky to prove this, so we recommend sticking with the one month of rent equivalency unless you have a very good reason to ask for more, such as a prior eviction for the tenant you’re placing. Don’t charge more than the one month amount without consulting a lawyer or a Mobile property manager.
Keeping Funds from the Security Deposit
In Alabama, there are only two reasons that landlords can lawfully keep a security deposit or part of the deposit:
- Unpaid rent or utilities
- Damage to the property that goes beyond wear and tear
It can often feel challenging for rental property owners to distinguish normal wear and tear from tenant damage. Your move-in inspection report is critical for this reason. You need to be thorough and document every detail of your property’s condition, from floors to walls to appliances and outdoor spaces. You want to accurately compare how the home looked at move-in versus move-out. Take a lot of pictures while you’re inspecting.
Wear and tear is often something small and expected. Tiny nail holes from where pictures were hung on a wall, for example, or scuff marks from where furniture rested. Damage is due to a tenant’s neglect, abuse, or misuse. That might be a large hole in a wall or a door that’s been broken off its hinges.
Returning the Deposit to Your Mobile Tenant
Alabama law requires you to return your tenant’s deposit within 35 days of the lease termination. You’ll have to deliver or mail the full deposit or the balance of the deposit after deductions were made. If you do make deductions, make sure you include an itemized list with reasons and deduction amounts.
Your move-out instructions to tenants should include providing a forwarding address. That’s where you’ll send the security deposit. If no forwarding address was provided, you’ll have to mail it to the last known address. Unclaimed security deposits are forfeited by tenant after 180 days.
If you don’t return the refund and the accounting itemization within the 35 days, your tenant can make a claim for twice the amount of the original deposit. Don’t miss that deadline.
Please contact us at IRBY Property Management if you have any questions about security deposits or anything pertaining to Mobile property management.