Taylor Law & Mediation PLLC doesn’t typically represent clients in landlord/tenant issues. This is an area of the law that was largely designed to allow parties to access the court system without having to have representation to do so. In fact, the state offers helpful resources at it’s self-help site.
This information is generally provided for information reasons only and is not intended to be substituted for legal advice as it is not tailored to specific situations, only general information.
Idaho’s Security Deposit Law
Under Idaho Code Sections 6-320 & 6-321:
- Any money deposited with a landlord that is not “rent” is a “security deposit.”
- After the tenant gives the premises back to the landlord at the end of the lease term, the landlord must return either the entire deposit or the landlord must give the tenant (1) a partial refund and (2) a written statement stating the amounts deducted, why they were deducted, and how the deductions were spent.
- Either the whole deposit or the partial refund and itemized deduction list must be given to the tenant either within 21 days after the lease ends or, if stated in the lease, within 30 days after the tenant leaves the premises.
- The landlord can only deduct for reasons agreed upon by the tenant in the lease and cannot deduct for normal wear and tear.
Wear and Tear (Landlord’s Responsibility)
- Faded curtains, carpet, & paint
- Water-stained linoleum by shower
- Minor marks on or nicks in wall
- Moderate dirt or spotting on carpet
- Moderately dirty blinds or curtain
- Warped cabinet doors
- Minor marks on or nicks in floors
- Worn out thermostat on dryer
- Mineral deposits in the toilets
- Stains on old porcelain fixtures
- Black spots on mirrors (de-silver)
Damage & Excessive Filth (Tenant’s responsibility)
- Cigarette burns in curtains & carpet
- Broken tiles & torn linoleum
- Excessive wall damage
- Pet damage to carpets & curtains
- Missing or broken blinds
- Sticky cabinets & water damaged interiors
- Water stains on wood floors
- Broken dryer or washer
- Plugged toilets & other plumbing
- Grime-coated bath tub & toilet
- Mirrors with makeup or hairspray
- Be sure the landlord knows your new address.
Your landlord might try to keep all or part of your security deposit after you move out. In some cases, you may be able to get back all or some of your security deposit. Idaho Code Sections 6-320 and 6-321 provides renters with a simple, five-step way to force your landlord to return any amount of owed security deposits.
If your landlord has not returned your deposit or sent you an itemized list of deductions within the required period, follow these steps:
Step 1: Write your landlord a demand letter.
Be sure to keep a copy for your records.
If your landlord violated the security deposit law by deducting for damages that were done before you moved in, you should explain that the deductions were too large. Ask that the excessive deductions be returned to you within three days. The same is true if your landlord has deducted damages you do not believe exist or has not provided you with an itemized list of deductions at all. Your demand letter may look like the following example:
Your new address
Your Phone Number
Your email address
Landlord phone number
Date of letter
Re: Demand letter for return of security deposit under Idaho Code Sections 6-320 and 6-321.
On (DATE), I moved from the apartment at (ADDRESS) that I rented from you, and my lease terminated. I paid you a security deposit of $ ______ when I moved in. You have not yet refunded this amount, nor sent me an itemized list of deductions made from the deposit. Because 21 days have passed since I left [or 30 days, if your lease provided so], you are now in violation of Idaho Code Section 6-321. I demand that my entire security deposit be returned to me within three days of your receipt of this letter. Kindly send the check for the full amount, payable to me, to (YOUR NEW ADDRESS). If you do not do so within three days of receiving this letter, I intend to sue you under Idaho Code Section 6-320(4). If I must sue you, the judge may award me three times the security deposit and require you to pay my court costs and attorney’s fees.
The letter above is a template. Be sure to edit it to meet your individual situation. For example, you might need to include: “I paid you a deposit of $___ when I moved in. On DATE, I received $___ from you as the refund from my security deposit. I am requesting an itemized list of deductions stating how you concluded this was the correct amount to return.”
Step 2: Deliver the demand letter to your landlord.
There are two ways to do this:
- Send the letter “Certified mail, return receipt requested.” This is the preferred method as you will receive a postcard showing you when the landlord received the letter. The postcard will prove that the letter was delivered at the correct address and on which date.
- Personally deliver it to the landlord/landlord’s agent (such as his/her rental management company or a direct employee). Have a friend or family member go with you to serve as a witness who can testify in court that the landlord received it and what day. This is the quickest method and the cheapest method.
Step 3: Wait three days.
Your landlord has three days after the day s/he receives the letter to return the deposit (not including weekends or holidays). If the landlord received your letter after the 21-day (or 30-day) period ended, s/he must return the entire deposit, regardless of damage you may have caused to the place.
If you did damage to the place and your landlord can prove it, you may want to consider negotiating a compromise with your landlord. If you agree on a settlement with your landlord, you should put it in writing and have your landlord sign it. Be sure to keep a copy.
Step 4: Sue the landlord.
If the landlord doesn’t return the deposit or provide an itemized list of deductions, you can likely sue your landlord in small claims court. You can find the filing forms here, or obtain them at the local county clerk’s office. You will need to include:
- your name and address;
- the landlord’s name and address;
- the nature of your claim;
- the amount the landlord owes you; and
- when the amount became due.
Below is an example of a statement you may include on your small claims form:
My landlord owes me a debt of $ ____ for his failure to return a security deposit and failure to send me an itemized list of deductions within the time required by Idaho Code Section 6-321. I demanded the return of the deposit by the attached demand letter, under Idaho Code Section 6-320, and the debt was due three days after the landlord received the letter on DATE. Also, I request that he pay my filing fees and for tripled damages.”
If the landlord did send you an itemized list of deductions, but some of the deductions are incorrect, your demand letter and statement on the Small Claims Court form will be slightly different than the above examples. You should explain how the deductions violated the law or the lease and demand that the excessive deductions be returned to you.
If you believe that the landlord kept part of your deposit to cover costs of cleaning or repairs that were not needed, you may state something like this example:
“I am entitled to the return of my deposit or the sum of $1,000 from the landlord, whichever is greater, because she violated Idaho Code Section 48-603(16) by claiming that services or repairs were needed when they were not needed or by providing services or repairs that were not needed.”
Step 5: Go to Small Claims Court for your trial.
Neither party may have an attorney at the small claims court trial.
You will be notified of the date, time and place of the hearing. Be prepared to explain why you are suing your landlord. Bring a copy of your demand letter, the certified mail postcard, and any proof you have showing how much security deposit you paid (a receipt or cancelled check, etc.). If you are suing because your landlord made improper deductions, bring witnesses or photos to prove it. If the judge finds that the landlord violated the law maliciously or intentionally, the judge might award you three times the damages that you prove you are owed.
Protect yourself from future Security Deposit problems
Many disputes with your landlord may be avoided if you take these steps:
- Before moving in, ask for a written lease. Keep a copy for your records.
- While moving in, make a list of defects. Write down everything that is broken or dirty, even if it seems very minor (like worn carpet, chips in the bathtub, or smudges on the wall). Take photos or video, too. Send a copy of this list to the landlord. Notify your landlord in writing about serious defects (like broken windows or heaters) or needed repairs as soon as possible.
- When moving out, have your belongings out and the place cleaned before midnight of the date your lease ends. Don’t plan on going back the next day to clean unless you have made written arrangements in advance with your landlord.
- After you move your belongings out and finish cleaning, walk through the place with your landlord. Make sure that you both agree on what is damaged or dirty. Your list will be useful to show what was already damaged when you moved in. If you can’t meet with your landlord when you move out, have a friend or family member go through the place with you after you have cleaned and take photos and/or video. If you have to sue the landlord to recover damages later, your friend or family member will be a good witness and your photos/video will be useful evidence.
- Return all keys you were given. Some landlords claim you have not moved out (and still owe rent) until you return the keys. Don’t just leave the keys inside the place. Give them to your landlord.
For additional information, read the Office of the Attorney General’s Landlord and Tenant Guidelines.