Is a landlord obligated to return the security deposit when the tenant has broken the lease?

UPDATED: Jun 4, 2011

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Is a landlord obligated to return the security deposit when the tenant has broken the lease?

Our tenant moved out 2 months prior to his lease being fulfilled to move to a larger home and notified us after the fact. His lease stated that if he were to abandon the premises during the term of the lease, the landlord may obtain possession of the property without becoming liable to the tenant for any damage or payment of any kind whatsoever. Does this free us from any obligation to return the security deposit after damages are deducted, even if we have signed a lease with a new tenant?

Asked on June 4, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Wisconsin


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

In WI a landlord has a right to withhold a security deposit for any of several reasons if the tenant has:

  • damaged the premises (beyond ordinary wear and tear);
  • caused waste and/or neglect of the premises (e.g. leaving hot water running in the bathtub for days);
  • didn't pay all rent due; or
  • didn't pay for utility services (regardless of whether the landlord provided these or the tenant paid for then directly).

Note:  The landlord must give reasons (in writing) for refusing to return all or any part of a security deposit and is required to provide this information within 21 days of the tenant vacating. However, the tenant must give the landlord their new address.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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