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Security deposits in Delaware

Throughout the state of Delaware, tenants have legal rights under the law. Understanding these rights can help renters protect themselves from illegal actions on behalf of landlords or other parties. The rights granted to renters extend across all income levels and most types of rental units to include subsidize housing. The one exception to the law pertains to mobile homes located in mobile home parks, but these renters have protections under another act.

Before moving into any given property, most tenants will be asked to sign a lease outlining the rules, rental amounts, security deposit and expectations. A careful lease review should be conducted to ensure that the individual understands the lease and its provisions. Security deposits may only be collected through a written or oral agreement defining the amount of the deposit. Security deposits are limited to one month's rent if a one-year lease is signed. If a tenant is on a monthly basis with no lease, then the landlord can set any amount he or she deems fit for the deposit. If a tenant remains in the unit for more than one year, then any deposit amount that exceeds one month's rent must be returned to the tenant or deducted off a month's rent. Deposits for the last month's rent are not allowed under Delaware law.

Pet deposits are separate from the security deposit, and they cannot exceed the amount of monthly rent. In lieu of a pet deposit, then landlord may charge a monthly fee for owning a pet, but property owners are not allowed to charge both a pet deposit and a pet fee. Deposits are placed in a special escrow account to be used for damage to the dwelling, to cover rental amounts that are owed after a tenant moves, or to cover other expenses that may be due if a lease is terminated early.

People who believe that a landlord violated their rights by charging high deposits, combining pet fees with pet deposits or breaking other conditions of a lease do have some legal options open to them. An attorney can help them review the situation to determine if the case would best be served in small claims court, through mediation, or by working with a government agency to correct the problem and help protect the renter's rights.

Source: Community Legal Aid Society, Inc., "Tenant’s Rights", October 31, 2014

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