How much can a landlord charge before you move in?

Landlords used to be free to ask for what they wanted from new renters when it came to how much money they had to put down before they moved in to an apartment or house.

Typically, that involved about three times the rent for the property -- or more. Payments took the form of the first month's rent, a hefty security deposit that could be equal to several months' rent and the last month's rent -- all paid in advance when the lease was signed.

That has changed, however, thanks to the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act (HSTPA) of 2019. Here's how the new rules work:

  • Landlords are no longer permitted to demand the final month's rent when the lease is signed -- or any other advance rental payments.

  • Landlords may not require a security deposit that exceeds the value of a single month's rent, regardless of whether the property is rent-controlled or not.

  • Landlords who violate the rules on security deposits and advance rent can be penalized in court and forced to pay the tenant punitive damages.

In addition, the HSTPA makes it harder for a landlord to unfairly keep whatever security deposit a tenant puts down. Landlords now only have 14 days to return the deposit once the tenant leaves the property. If the landlord intends to keep any of that money for rent that is owed for damages, they must provide the tenant with written notice that details the damages and the charges.

The HSTPA is still relatively new, so many tenants are unfamiliar with the protections it affords -- and some landlords may not have kept up with the changes. If you're uncertain about your rights or legal obligations as a tenant or a landlord, it may be the time to talk with an experienced attorney.