As discussed below, commingling security deposits with personal funds can have great ramifications to both the tenant and landlord in actions involving disputes over the same.
In Band v. Peters, the tenant entered into a residential lease with the landlord and timely paid both the security and utility deposits pursuant to the terms of the lease. After vacating the subject premises according to the agreed term, the landlord did not return the security and utility deposits. The tenant then brought an action against the landlord alleging, among other claims, that the landlord commingled both deposits with his personal funds. Further, and in violation of the lease and General Obligations Law (“GOL”) §7-103, the tenant alleged that the landlord failed to notify him of the name and address of the bank into which both deposits were made pursuant to the terms of the lease. Additionally, the lease provided for the return of the security deposit within forty-five (45) days following the termination of the lease.
The landlord disputed the above claims and averred that the tenant breached the terms of the lease and therefore, forfeited the return of his security deposit. The tenant countered that even if the Court found that he breached the terms of the lease, there were no deposits that could be forfeited because the landlord commingled the deposits prior to any alleged breach.
The Court found that the landlord did in fact deposit the security and utility deposits into his personal account, rather than holding both deposits in trust for the tenant pursuant to GOL §7-103. Consequently, the Court ordered the immediate return of both deposits with interest, plus attorney’s fees (pursuant to the terms of the lease).
Landlords and tenants should be aware of the above as the two (2) relatively “minor” errors committed by the landlord, which no doubt will continue to occur in the ordinary course of business, can be of great significance to both parties.