What is a security deposit? 3 things to know


Whether you’ve been poring over apartment listings online or dashing from property to property IRL, your search for your next apartment has probably brought you in close contact with one of apartment hunting’s biggest predators: the security deposit. 

The security deposit stalks the jungle floor where your apartment hunt plays out, both feared and fearsome. Skillfully camouflaged within the perks and amenities of your dream apartment, it patiently waits for you to lower your market-toughened guard for its chance to pounce.

Perhaps you’ve heard the stories of its notorious bite. But even if you know that security deposits lurk amongst your leases, you may still have a few unanswered questions, like what a security deposit is, what is it used for, and is it refundable? Let’s dive in. 

moving search online

#1 What is a security deposit?

Like the ant-mimicking spider, whose antennas resemble and lure in unsuspecting ants, a tenant’s security deposit can often go undetected during your apartment search—their terms are often sandwiched between thick text walls and legal jargon. It shouldn’t be mistaken for advance rent or a refundable deposit, for starters.

But the truth is, security deposits are incredibly transparent. Essentially, a security deposit is a one-time fee that a prospective tenant pays a landlord that guarantees three things: 

  • That the tenant will keep the rental unit well maintained
  • That the tenant will pay the agreed-upon month’s rent 
  • That the tenant will honor the agreed-upon lease terms  

The amount of a tenants security deposit will vary based on state regulations and the policies of a given landlord. Some may charge an amount that’s equal to the monthly rent while others may charge only a portion of the rent. And others don’t charge renters a security deposit at all. 

The amount of your security deposit may also be affected by: 

  • Property amenities
  • Local competition 
  • Your credit and renting history

That said, about 88% of renters pay some sort of security deposit, with the national average being right around $700.1 

#2 What is a security deposit for? 

In most cases, security deposits are used to cover any damage beyond regular wear and tear that a tenant causes to a property. This includes things like damaged walls or floors, broken windows, broken or damaged appliances, and water damage. It doesn’t include issues that result from regular everyday living.

That said, tenant security deposits don’t only protect landlords from property damage. Landlords may also keep your security deposit for the following reasons:

  • Unpaid rent payment – In most states, landlords can use a tenant’s entire security deposit to cover any rent that isn’t paid at the end of a lease.
  • Elaborate mess – Dusty blinds or ceiling fans aren’t usually sufficient cause for a landlord to hang on to a security deposit. But if you leave stains on the carpet or walls or create unnecessary messes in the kitchen or bathroom, you could forfeit your security deposit.
  • Breaking your lease or violating lease terms – If you don’t follow the agreed terms, like painting the walls or using the property for unintended purposes, you could lose your deposit. 
  • Abandoned items – If you leave behind large furniture or other property that your landlord has to pay to have removed, they could take that money from your security deposit. 

#3 Do you get your security deposit back? 

The good news about security deposits is that they’re refundable. They’re not meant to line landlords’ pockets. Instead, they’re designed to protect landlords from costly expenses and, in turn, keep prices low for renters. 

That said, you aren’t automatically entitled to a refund on your security deposit once your lease is up. As mentioned above, there are many reasons that a landlord may keep your money. The best way to make sure they can’t is by:

  • Studying your lease – Knowing your lease agreement forward and backward is the best way to make sure you don’t unwittingly violate its terms and lose your deposit.2  
  • Being a good tenant – If you want to keep your security deposit, your goal should be to leave the apartment in the same condition you found it in. That means being diligent about cleaning and maintaining the property.

The security deposit is just one of the costs to consider before moving to a new place. There’s also the rent. If you move in the middle of the month, you only have to pay prorated rent for that first month.

Stave off the fees with Common

These days, everyone’s trying to save money and evade the elusive security deposit. But when you’re hunting for an apartment, the stampede of application fees, security deposits, and move-in fees can make pinching your pennies a challenge.

That’s where Common comes in. When you move into our Chicago or Washington, D.C. homes, no security deposit is required, and you won’t have to pay a security deposit before you sign a lease to one of our New York, LA, San Francisco, or Seattle homes. Instead, we partner with security deposit replacement tools like Obligo, which charge a small fee each month in place of one, large lump sum.

But if you don’t want to live on your own, consider coliving. Our coliving spaces make city living easier by using technology and design to renovate communal living with renters in mind. And tenants are taking notice, too. In 2020, coliving properties performed 23% better than traditional properties. This just proves the future of coliving is bright. When you live in any of our shared or private living spaces you get access to the best amenities, exclusive community events, and much, much more—all for less than what you’d pay living somewhere else. 

We give you the space, you make it home. Find out more today



  1. Zillow. How Much Should a Security Deposit Be? https://www.zillow.com/rental-manager/resources/security-deposits-tips-landlords/ 
  2. Nolo.com Get Your Security Deposit Back. https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/get-security-deposit-back-29695.html 

Related posts: