Document the apartment once more after you've emptied it out. Ross suggests using some old media to prove that you took the pictures on the date you say you did: "Hold up that day's newspaper so that the date is visible in the photos."

The landlord has 30 days to either send you the full security deposit with interest or explain why not.

"If they are making a deduction for any damages, they need to send an itemized list stating the nature of the repair, and it must be signed under penalty of perjury above the landlord's signature," says Ross.

If the landlord fails to follow the security deposit law, they might be doing you a big favor — it allows you to take them to court and collect three times the security deposit.

"If the landlord hasn't complied with the law, it doesn't even matter whether the tenants damaged the apartment or not," says Ross. "The landlord can sue separately for the damages, but he will still have to pay three times the security deposit."

Courts will also make the landlord pay the tenant's legal fees, which means lawyers may take a solid security-deposit case without asking for any money upfront.

Noah Schaffer can be reached at

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