Q: I work for a property management company. We are wondering what is the correct date to begin counting the 21 days from in order to refund a renter’s security deposit after they move out of their apartment. For example, say a person is on a 12-month lease, and their lease ends the last day of the month. My company then has 21 days to put their refund in the mail, which is postmarked by the 21st of the month following their move out. However, what about a renter who has paid rent through the end of their lease, but moves out one month, 15 days or a few days before their lease ends — when does the 21 days start? Does it start as soon as they vacate the apartment and turn in the keys, or does it begin from the lease-termination date regardless of when they leave?
A: When a tenant leaves at the end of their lease, the 21-day rule applies, just as you indicated. Even if the tenant owes you rent money, a landlord still must send a letter within 21 days from the lease-termination date, indicating why the landlord is keeping all or part of the tenant’s security deposit. Minnesota law allows for landlords to use the security deposit to cover any past rent or other funds owed by their tenants, but you still need to send a letter in 21 days, explaining what you’re spending the security deposit on, along with a check for the remaining balance, if there is any.
In some situations, it may be difficult to determine when the tenancy has terminated. If your tenant vacates at the end of their lease or a few days early, then the 21-day period begins at the lease-termination date. If the landlord and tenant mutually agree to terminate the lease well before the intended date, or the tenant vacates early with no intention to return, then the 21 days begins running on that day mentioned in the new agreement instead of when the original lease ends. Also, if a tenant vacates the property before the end of their lease, and a new tenant moves in, then the 21-day period begins running when the tenant vacates the unit.
The tough question is what happens when the tenant vacates the unit a week or two early, with rent paid through the end of the month. There is no hard-and-fast rule that courts apply in such an instance. Obviously, the safe route is for the landlord to start counting from the date that the tenant vacates the unit. But, if a landlord is renting or managing hundreds of units, this can be quite cumbersome.
I don’t know if a court would always excuse a landlord if they begin counting from the lease-termination date even though their tenant vacated a week or two early, so I cannot recommend that you follow such a practice. My recommendation is that you begin counting the 21 days from the date that the tenant moves out, as opposed to the lease-termination date.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.