Must my landlord return my security deposit?

Q: Is landlord allowed to retain security deposit after broken lease? Had an apartment with a very laid back landlord. Also had a roommate who had to leave the lease, I couldn’t cover the rest of the rent. Gave the landlord a three month heads up, which verbally was OK with. We left the lease June 1st even though it ran until Sept 1st. No legal written statement of landlord being OK with this but I do know he is currently renting the spot and has been since July 1st. After talking with him about security deposit at the end of July over the phone, he claims there were $300 in cleaning but has not provided any sort of list. He still hasn’t sent us the security deposit back. I’m wondering what legal action I can take and since a lot of dealing with this landlord was ‘off the cuff’ am I legal obligated to fulfill the rest of the lease? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: In PA, a landlord has 30 days after the lease has ended or the leasehold is surrendered to return a security deposit after the tenant has requested in writing the return of the deposit and provided the landlord with his or her new forwarding address. As a matter of procedure, you should do this via certified mail, return receipt. If the landlord fails to return the money and has not explained a reason as to why he retained the deposit (i.e. clean up), the tenant can sue him for the deposit amount as well as damages. The landlord should be able to document his damage expenses. It must be damage and cannot be normal wear and tear. If you fear that since you left a month early, he could claim the month of June in unpaid rent, you may want to reconsider going after the deposit. An attorney would need to look at the lease before advising you.

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