DEFINITION of Security Deposit

A security deposit is a monetary deposit given to a lender, seller or landlord as proof of intent. Security deposits can be either refundable or nonrefundable depending on the terms of the transaction. The deposit is intended as a measure of security for the recipient.

BREAKING DOWN Security Deposit

In some states, landlords might apply security deposits as rent from tenants who cannot otherwise pay or use the deposits to repair damage caused by tenants. Each state may stipulate whether or not a security deposit can be used to pay the final month’s rent when occupancy of a property comes to an end. Depending on local legislation, the final month’s rent and a security deposit might not be the same and must be accounted for separately. The landlord could even need written approval from the renter to use a security deposit as final rent.

How Security Deposits Are Used in Real Estate

The amount of a security deposit might be equal to one month’s rent or an even larger sum. If the rental rate on a property increases, the security deposit that is held in escrow might not be sufficient. Security deposits can accrue interest while they are held but the rate of rent increases might exceed that interest. The renter would then need to add more money to the security deposit that is being held.

Security deposits are not considered taxable income. Local laws often treat security deposits as trust funds. Security deposits that are used as final rent payments must be claimed as advance rent and are taxable when paid.

A security deposit might be used toward any repairs or replacement of appliances in a rental unit if the damages resulted from the actions of the renter. For example, if a renter breaks a window or causes permanent damage to the floors, walls or infrastructure of the property, then the landlord can use the security deposit toward repairs. Typically, if the property is in good condition and without need of repair when the renter moves out, the security deposit may be refunded to them.

There may be challenges to the amount required for security deposits in particular cities or neighborhoods. Some districts could have landlords who charge higher security deposit rates compared with surrounding areas. This can have the effect of forcing lower income individuals and families from finding places to live in those areas. Local legislation might be enacted that sets limits on how large a security deposit may be in relation to the rent charged for a property.