Are Security Deposits Always Worth the Risk?

posted Jul 9, 2012, 10:04 AM by Michael Vosilla

The short answer is no, not always. For residential landlords, security deposits often cause much more harm than good. Under M.G.L. c. 186, § 15B, a residential landlord who accepts security deposits must adhere to a stringent set of statutory requirements. Failure to do so, even unknowingly and without bad-faith or malice, can result in triple damages plus costs and attorneys’ fees (that often exceed the damages) awarded to the tenant. One notable and very important requirement is that any portion of the deposit that the tenant is entitled to have returned, must be returned within 30 days of the tenant leaving the premises. All too often however, this requirement is treated lightly, which can leave a landlord short on cash in potential financial ruin.

As the Appeal’s Court reminded landlords on July 9, 2012, returning the deposit even a single day late can trigger the treble damages and attorneys’ fees remedy for the tenant. Although the court left open the question of whether the date the landlord places the proverbial check in the mail constitutes the return date (as opposed to the date of delivery), the landlord-tenant attorneys at LaFountain & Wollman, P.C. strongly encourage all landlords to ensure the deposit is actually delivered within 30 days. As any experienced landlord-tenant lawyer should know, a landlord who learns they were wrong in court can end up paying the cost of overnight mail thousands of times over in legal fees and triple damages