LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R), ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI, RMP
Property Profiles, Inc.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. I was renting a condo, and after moving out received the security deposit about 3 weeks later. I sent the check to my dad because he had loaned me the money when I moved in. I guess he forgot about cashing the check and when he went to the bank about 3 months later he was told that the check had a stop payment put on it. I checked with the landlord and he said that I shouldn’t have taken so long to cash the check and that the carpets needed to be cleaned another time after I moved out. He said that he would send me another check for the security deposit but he was going to take out the cost of the second carpet cleaning. Can he do that?
A. This is a case where the rules of the Landlord Tenant code are not being followed. First of all, HRS Chapter 521-44(c) states: The security deposit, or the portion of the security deposit remaining after the landlord has claimed and retained amounts authorized under this section, if any, shall be returned to the tenant not later than fourteen days after the termination of the rental agreement. It appears that this time frame was missed, since the security deposit refund check was received after 3 weeks.
Since the landlord didn’t return the funds within those 14 days, the code continues on to say the landlord shall not be entitled to retain the security deposit or any part of it, and the landlord shall return the entire amount of the security deposit to the tenant.
The other issue is that after the 14 day period has passed, the landlord has no right to charge additional amounts for carpet cleaning – or anything else. So the fact that he is suggesting that he reimburse you the amount of the security deposit minus the cost of the second carpet cleaning is also against the law.
Regarding the landlord putting a stop payment on the security deposit check in the first place – that is very concerning. Security deposits are funds that belong to tenant and are just being held by the landlord to remedy tenant defaults for accidental or intentional damage, for failure to pay rent, for the failure to return all keys, for cleaning and to compensate for damages caused by a tenant who wrongfully quits the dwelling unit. These funds should be held in an account where the funds are liquid and accessible.
If the landlord refuses to return the amount of the security deposit that is rightfully yours, then your only recourse would be to go to small claims court. The Small Claims Court is the division of District Court that handles certain disputes between two or more parties. These cases are decided by a judge in an informal manner. The amount of the dispute can’t exceed $5,000. The judge will offer that you work with a mediator to resolve your differences. If that doesn’t work out, then you will ultimately go in front of the judge who will made the final decision.
The law states that in any action in the small claims division of the the district court pursuant to subsection (g) where the court determines that the landlord wrongfully and willfully retained a security deposit or part of a security deposit, the court may award the tenant damages in an amount equal to three times the amount of the security deposit, or any portion that was wrongfully and willfully retained as well as the cost of the lawsuit itself.