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I am an international student living in Pennsylvania, USA for the semester. I had to pay a security deposit when I rented this property and now my landlord is saying that I must pay a "shipping" charge to receive my money. PA law states that the landlord must give back the security deposit within 30 days or provide reasons for why they are withholding the money.

The lease mentions no fee for returning the security deposit, but the landlord is demanding a fee of $75 for direct wire transfer and $125 for overnight courier service

Can my landlord charge a fee to return my security deposit?

  • 1
    That sounds like extortion. The fees are a cost of business, and without contractual obligation to pay those yourself, I'd firmly suggest asking a lawyer. – Nij Jan 19 '17 at 2:31
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This sounds improper if not expressly authorized by the lease, unless there is some option, for example, to send a check by ordinary mail or to have someone pick it up in person for you on your behalf, that is free.

Those prices are also a large markup over actual cost. This fact might invalidate even an express lease provision in a lease that imposed this fee because "penalties" that impose a flat dollar fee as a liquidated damage amount that are far in excess of an amount that can easily be determined exactly are void as against public policy.

On the other hand, the amount in dispute is probably not large enough to make it cost effective to hire a lawyer and you probably aren't practically in a position to take the case to small claims court. There are many cases in the law where someone has violated your legal rights but it is not practical economically to seek a remedy for that violation. (American football, incidentally, is the only game of which I am aware which is designed to give rise to many such situations, so perhaps this is a particularly American concept.)

  • Can you elaborate on the American football comment? – phoog Apr 22 '17 at 14:22
  • In American football, you often have a choice between taking the results of the play as run and waiving a penalty, or doing the play over and taking the benefits of a penalty (usually keeping the same down and moving the ball down the field before a do over of a play). So often, perhaps one time in three, when a penalty is called in American football, the penalty is declined because the result of the play as actually run despite the conduct giving rise to the penalty, leaves the team better off than it would have been if it had done the play over with the benefit of the penalty. – ohwilleke Apr 22 '17 at 20:48
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The landlord has the upper hand if you can't physically go collect the amount yourself. You should strenuously object to paying this fee, in writing, citing Pennsylvania law and your lease. If your landlord persists, I recommend you pay the wire transfer fee of $75 and then slam this guy in every corner of the Internet. If you don't have a special non disparagement agreement you incur no liability by warning others of what a sleaze ball this guy is and how nobody should ever rent from him. Lawyer types will advise against this but you need to know when to ignore lawyer types. Truth is an absolute defense to claims of defamation.

See, for instance, this section of the Pennsylvania Landlord Tenant Act of 1951:

Section 250.512. Recovery of improperly held escrow funds

(a) Every landlord shall within thirty days of termination of a lease or upon surrender and acceptance of the leasehold premises, whichever first occurs, provide a tenant with a written list of any damages to the leasehold premises for which the landlord claims the tenant is liable. Delivery of the list shall be accompanied by payment of the difference between any sum deposited in escrow, including any unpaid interest thereon, for the payment of damages to the leasehold premises and the actual amount of damages to the leasehold premises caused by the tenant. Nothing in this section shall preclude the landlord from refusing to return the escrow fund, including any unpaid interest thereon, for nonpayment of rent or for the breach of any other condition in the lease by the tenant.

(b) Any landlord who fails to provide a written list within thirty days as required in subsection (a), above, shall forfeit all rights to withhold any portion of sums held in escrow, including any unpaid interest thereon, or to bring suit against the tenant for damages to the leasehold premises.

(c) If the landlord fails to pay the tenant the difference between the sum deposited, including any unpaid interest thereon, and the actual damages to the leasehold premises caused by the tenant within thirty days after termination of the lease or surrender and acceptance of the leasehold premises, the landlord shall be liable in assumpsit to double the amount by which the sum deposited in escrow, including any unpaid interest thereon, exceeds the actual damages to the leasehold premises caused by the tenant as determined by any court of record or court not of record having jurisdiction in civil actions at law. The burden of proof of actual damages caused by the tenant to the leasehold premises shall be on the landlord.

(d) Any attempted waiver of this section by a tenant by contract or otherwise shall be void and unenforceable.

(e) Failure of the tenant to provide the landlord with his new address in writing upon termination of the lease or upon surrender and acceptance of the leasehold premises shall relieve the landlord from any liability under this section.

As long as you provided a valid forwarding address as per (e) above, the language in this law can only be interpreted as creating a burden on the landlord to remit the difference to you. Any amount withheld must be itemized and only cover:

  • damages
  • back rent

He must send you the itemized list within 30 days. He cannot put on the list "$125 mailing fee" or "$75 wire fee"; well he can, but those aren't valid deductions, particularly if not agreed to in the lease (possibly, they aren't even valid if you do agree, due to (d)). As long as you gave the landlord your mailing address, your landlord is liable for returning your deposit - there is no mention that he can charge for this (well he can, but your failure to pay doesn't remove his liability, so effectively he cannot require that you pay, only ask).

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