Security Deposit Law

G.L. c. 186 § 15B better known as The Massachusetts Security Deposit law is among the most unforgiving in the nation. There are numerous statutorily defined formalities that one must follow when taking a tenant’s security deposit and there are brutal penalties for even a seemingly innocent violation.

Under the Security Deposit Statute, a landlord is responsible for damages of up to three (3) times the amount of the security deposit, plus interest, court costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees if the landlord fails to place the security deposit in an proper interest bearing account within thirty (30) days and then fails to return the deposit when the tenant demands. G.L. c. 186 § 15B.

The maximum amount that a tenant can be charged for a security deposit is a month’s rent. This means at the inception of any tenancy the landlord is only allowed to take first month’s rent, last month’s rent, a security deposit not more than the monthly rental amount, and the cost for new lock and key.

A security deposit remains the property of the tenant until a landlord is authorized to use it. Therefore, a landlord is required to keep a tenant’s security deposit in a separate, interest-bearing bank account in Massachusetts. Each account must also be clearly identified as containing funds that don’t belong to the landlord and are being held in trust (escrow) for the tenant.

Statement of Condition

If a landlord or agent takes a security deposit, they must provide a signed, separate statement of the present condition of the apartment including a comprehensive list of any existing damage.

Landlords or their agents must give their tenants a statement of condition upon receipt of a security deposit or within 10 days after the tenancy begins, whichever is later. If the tenant does not agree with the contents of the statement, they must return a corrected copy to the landlord within 15 days after receiving the list or 15 days after moving in, whichever is later.

If the tenant fails to return the list and later sues to recover the security deposit, a court may view this failure to do so as an agreement that the list was complete and correct. If a tenant submits a separate list of damages, the landlord must review and return it within 15 days of receipt with a clear written response of agreement or disagreement.

The signed statement and the original condition statement are the basis upon which future deductions for damage will be made. If the landlord does not send the tenant a statement of condition, the tenant should write their own and send a copy to the landlord or agent and keep a copy for their records.

Within 30 days of depositing the security deposit, the landlord must give the tenant in writing:

  • The name and location of the bank where the deposit is being held
  • The amount of the deposit;
  • The account number.

Penalties

A landlord faces the possibility of owing tenants three times the deposit amount, plus 5% interest, plus attorney’s fees, plus other court costs, if they fail to do any of the following:

1. Put the security deposit into a bank account:
The bank must be in Massachusetts;
The account must earn interest;
The account must be under the tenant’s name and social security number only, with landlord as signatory (specifically, a landlord-tenant account).

2. Within 30 days of the beginning of the tenancy:
Give a receipt that lists:
The name and location of the bank;
The amount of the deposit;
The account number.

3. Each year:
Pay interest;
Either 5% or the actual amount of interest received (if less than 5%);
Either cash or check or deducted from the rent;
Give an annual statement that lists basically all the above information again.

4. Within 30 days of the end of tenancy:
Pay all interest;
Provide an itemized list of damages;
This list must be signed by the landlord;
The form must say “Signed under the pains and penalties of perjury;
Receipts, invoices, or photographic evidence are required for each deduction;
No deduction can be made for damaged items identified at move-in;
Return the original deposit plus remaining unpaid interest less damages.

Any single failure of any of the above may entitle the tenant to receive three times the amount of the deposit. It doesn’t matter how nice of a person the landlord is, or whether the landlord’s failure to follow the letter of the law was in good faith.

Damage deduction for security deposits

Upon termination of the tenancy, the landlord must return the security deposit or balance thereof within 30 days of the tenant vacating the apartment. Deductions can only be made for the following items:

  • Unpaid rent not lawfully withheld;
  • Unpaid increases in real estate taxes the tenant is bound to pay pursuant to a valid tax escalator clause in the lease;
  • Any reasonable amount necessary to repair damage caused by the tenant, their pets, or guests.

Normal wear and tear in an apartment is not a deductible item of damage.

Security Deposit Case Law
If you return a deposit mid-tenancy because you haven’t complied with the law, you are not liable for triple damages. Castenholze v. Caira and another 21 Mass. App. Ct. 758 (1986).
If you return a deposit more than 30 days after the end of a tenancy but prior to the start of litigation, you are still liable for triple damages. Taylor v. Beaudry, 75 Mass. App. Ct. 411 (2009).

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