Update: My Landlord is Still Terrible

Last night I was unlocking the front door of my building when our across-the-hall neighbor Janice swung it open. Surprised, I said hi then stepped aside to let her walk through. I saw she was heaving out two black garbage bags full of stuff as she apologized, saying her apartment was full of crap that she’d have to throw away since she was out of here by March 31st. This was all under her breath, and said quickly as I stood there dumbfounded.

“What?” I said. “No!”

I put down my groceries and went to grab her other garbage bag.

“Yep,” she said, sounding resigned. “Eighteen years here.”

“He didn’t!” I said, dragging the garbage bag out. “I haven’t heard anything about this!” Now that it’s winter, no one is hanging out on the stoop and I know 100 percent less neighbor gossip. Before the snow came, it was rumored that our landlord was trying to kick out Janice so that his son could live in her apartment. This is one of the few ways a landlord can refuse to renew a tenant’s lease in a rent-stabilized apartment in New York. He tried this with the guy upstairs already, and somehow he finagled his way out of it, and he’s been bugging the old lady who’s been here over 50 years, but since she’s well over 62 there’s no way he can get her out. But Janice couldn’t find a loophole in his loophole.

We both stood in our respective doorways shrugging. I felt awful.

“What’s fucked up,” I told her, “is that he never once tried this with us. He never told us he needed our apartment.”

“I think it’s because you’re married,” she said.

“Oh god,” I said. I didn’t bother telling her that we weren’t married yet. “That’s discrimination!” I was outraged on her behalf even though I suspected that the real reason he went to her and not us is that she has been there 18 years and we’ve been here two so thanks to the magic of rent-stabilization she presumably pays far, far less rent than we do.

“Yep,” she said. “He told me, ‘Oh you live here all alone, why don’t you go live with someone?'” I was born in this neighborhood! My boyfriend lives in this neighborhood! I’ve been in this place 18 years! Why would I leave? Then he tells me he wants me to vacate so he can ‘modernize’ the apartment. I told him, ‘Great, you can modernize while I’m still here.'”

“He’s so full of shit,” I tell her, “At least you won’t have to ever deal with him again.”

She agrees, says, “Exactly,” and tells me about the house she just bought in Forest Hills, how it’s all working out for the best anyway. This doesn’t really make me feel any better. I have to fight the urge to tell her we’ll leave, she can stay. It’s only fair. I feel young and too lucky standing across the hall from her. I want to know more about her boyfriend and her new house.

“So I sent him a letter and I told him this is what I paid for my security deposit 18 years ago, I expect it back with 18 years interest. And if not, there’s gonna be trouble.”

“Good!” I say. I don’t know how you can charge your landlord interest on a security deposit, but I support the idea in theory and hope it’s a ton of money somehow.

“So,” she says, “I’ll be clearing this place out in the next few weeks.”

“And then his son moves in?”

“Supposedly.” I don’t know how this will work, having the son of our building’s shared enemy living among us. No good can come from it, we both know.

We both stand there awhile, me feeling uneasy and powerless. Guilty. She thanks me for helping me throw away some of her stuff, and we say goodnight. I closed my apartment door and Googled “security deposit interest NYC.” Much to my surprise, according to the Attorney General’s Tenant’s Rights Guide, this is a real thing!

Landlords, regardless of the number of units in the building, must treat the deposits as trust funds belonging to their tenants and they may not commingle deposits with their own money. Landlords of buildings with six or more apartments must put all security deposits in New York bank accounts earning interest at the prevailing rate. Each tenant must be informed in writing of the bank’s name and address and the amount of the deposit.

Landlords are entitled to collect annual administrative expenses of one percent of the deposit. All other interest earned on the deposits belongs to the tenants. Tenants must be given the option of having this interest paid to them annually, applied to rent, or paid at the end of the lease term. If the building has fewer than six apartments, a landlord who voluntarily places the security deposits in an interest bearing bank account must also follow these rules.

For example: A tenant pays a security deposit of $800. The landlord places the deposit in an interest bearing bank account paying 2.5%. At the end of the year the account will have earned interest of $20.00. The tenant is entitled to $12.00 and the landlord may retain $8.00, 1% of the deposit, as an administrative fee.

Emphasis mine. Has anyone’s landlord ever actually paid them interest on their security deposit? Or even heard mention of it? These days of course the 1% administrative fee would far outpace any standard interest rate on a savings account. But I’m going to pretend it’s more, that Janice’s digging through tenant’s rights PDFs actually got her somewhere, that somehow maybe the interest on her 18-year-old security deposit covered her down payment on her house in Forest Hills.

I also have to sit with the fact that we didn’t, and we aren’t, going to volunteer to leave. I don’t want to pay $2,600 for a similar apartment down the block. I don’t want to move to Forest Hills. So I have to sit with that, and feel uneasy about it, and watch this woman who has spent her whole life in this neighborhood drag her old furniture to the curb. Dustin came home that night and told me to put on my shoes, that there was a desk sitting out in the trash that maybe we could paint and would work perfectly in our living room. I waved him off, turned around to walk back inside. I’m sure Janice would be happy for us to make use of it, but I don’t like the idea of dragging her stuff back up the steps and keeping it in our home, the place we get to stay in mostly because we only just got here, because to us it’s not really a home at all.

Photo: jmawork


23 Comments / Post A Comment

ladybug (#2,583)

Our crazy landlady held our security in escrow years ago and we benefited from the interest when we got the security deposit back. I was shocked. I don’t know if it’s DC law (where the apartment was), but she was from the Bronx originally, so maybe she was just following what she knew of this law you printed.

@ladybug Holding the deposit in escrow + receiving interest is DC law, too, as long as you live somewhere more than a year (I think). Our landlords very helpfully explained this to us when we moved in. One of many reasons I will miss them when we leave!

Yogi (#2,872)

@ladybug Also in DC, one of our landlord’s did this as well. It was a pleasant surprise. Didn’t realize it was DC law… will keep that info. in my back pocket going forward.

minijen (#656)

FL here. It’s definitely a legal requirement for the state, but I’ve never gotten interest back. That being said, I rent out a room in my house, and keep the roommates deposit fund in a separate, interest-bearing account, never touched until they’ve moved out. Then they get everything, minus what they destroy and don’t fix (which rarely happens).

franklina (#3,924)

I get a tax statement (can’t remember which one) from the bank that holds my security deposit every year. Not that I’m earning anything remotely taxable on it, of course. This is in NYC.

Meaghano (#529)

@franklina That is impressive!

punzy (#160)

I have received $1.25 from deposit interest! In a separate check from the deposit return. Which was strange and the only reason I remember the amount. Otherwise I usually get about a dollar or two in with the returned deposit.

joyballz (#2,000)

I’ve gotten interest on the last security deposit returned to me. Lately I’ve seen more and more non-refundable move-in fees in Chicago and fewer security deposits required. Maybe to avoid dealing with this? I was happy to pay a $350 move-in fee to not have to worry about repainting walls to white and not having to stress about getting it all back at the end of the lease.

Meaghano (#529)

@joyballz That is fascinating. Yeah I might rather do that, too. Mostly because $1450 is a lot to pay at once, and I have so many doubts about ever seeing it again.

MissMushkila (#1,044)

I’m in MN, and I’ve always gotten interest with the return of my deposits. However, I also know the tenant’s rights codes by heart for my state, and occasionally refer to them in dealings, so maybe they just all felt like they had to be on top of it with me. (Mostly things like “hey we haven’t got a rent property tax form yet and according to code it’s due Jan 31 – could you send it when you get a chance so that I can file all of my taxes at once?”)

Meaghano (#529)

@MissMushkila Ha. Yeah I am slowly learning. Today I heard my landlord and a mechanic discussing the thermostat (for some reason the building thermostat is in our apt) and my landlord said to set it so it gets colder at 8:30PM. And I yelled “THE LAW SAYS 10PM!” from my desk without turning around.

sherlock (#3,599)

I don’t actually have a security deposit (and am still in my first apartment), but getting interest on it is 100% in line with my expectations of how they work.

Meaghano (#529)

@sherlock Really? I mean, it seems like a fair policy but I had never even heard of it much less expected it. I guess I am too resigned to the role of the renter being powerless.

sherlock (#3,599)

@Meaghano I started to wonder whether this was something that I first read about on the Billfold, but then I remembered I actually heard about it from a friend who took her landlord to small claims court. She wrote about the experience(link below) – it’s another example of a truly terrible landlord. I’m just re-skimming the story, but it looks like she didn’t even go into the part where they had to get a government agency involved to force the landlord to fix the heater because the apartment’s temperature was below the legal minimum.


honey cowl (#1,510)

It’s written into my lease and my last lease that the landlord retains all interest earned on the security deposit. I never bothered looking into that so maybe I should check!

Beaks (#3,488)

@honey cowl It’s written that way in ours too, and I live in Texas so I just assume I have no rights anyways (from what I’ve read those assumptions are roughly correct)

In NZ all bonds are paid to the government department of housing. They hold your money for as long as you live in that rental.

When you move out and do the walkthrough with the LL/property manager, you both sign the paper that details who’s getting how much of the bond (ie you were a model tenant and had everything meticulously cleaned and fixed any damage, you get 100%, or there are a few things beyond wear and tear so the LL will get $200 or whatever). You send that in to the department of housing and they refund your money to your bank account within a week.

So there’s no interest paid, but otherwise I think it’s a pretty good system.

I’ve gotten back interest in MD. In England my landlord was supposed to put my deposit into an escrow scheme (like the NZ thing above) and he didn’t, so I just skipped out on my last month’s rent (I hear he’s still furious). Also, I think in DC the interest rate is set to a high, fixed amount like 6% or 9%, not the prevailing interest rate. Could be wrong though.

jennonthego (#5,366)

I’m in California and in the apartments that I’ve lived in longer than a year (which is two or three), I’ve gotten interest annually on my security deposit. (Or at least informed of what the annual interest earned is.) In my current place, I got a statement of my interest earned this summer, but the admin cost outweighed it, so somehow I owed my landlord an addition $7 or something. Really odd.

Allison (#4,509)

I had to pay a 3 month security deposit when I moved into my first place (ah to be 20 with basically no credit history) so when I finally moved out/got my security deposit back it was a major windfall, even if they took out money to paint the ceiling, which wasn’t at all my fault. But I definitely got interest on it!

I’ve been setting up new leases every year due to having new roommates, and the leasing company has applied the interest earned on my last month’s rent as a credit to the first month on the new lease. It’s not been a lot, but it’s nice. This newest lease had no last month’s rent, though, and they never required a deposit.

Trilby (#191)

Um, yeah, hello Billfold? What’s with the porn-y ad here below the story. As a woman, it makes me feel less welcome.

Meaghano (#529)

@Trilby Oh god I’m afraid to ask what it is. (I think they show different ads for everyone.) I am so sorry — not that this is your responsibility but if you want to email me what it was (meaghan@thebillfold.com) I’ll forward along to proper authorities. :( sorry again

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