Delaware Security Deposit Returns and Deductions

Delaware Security Deposit Returns and Deductions

Last Updated: January 22, 2024 by Phil Ahn

Quick Facts Answer
Acceptable Deductions Unpaid rent and late fees

Costs of damage

Costs due to early termination

Return Deadline 20 days
Itemized Deductions Required
Penalty for Late Return 2x Amount Due + Court Costs

For laws on security deposit collections and holdings in Delaware, click here.

Security Deposit Deductions in Delaware

In Delaware, the following can be deducted from security deposits:

  • Unpaid rent and late fees
  • Costs of damage excluding normal wear and tear
  • Costs due to early termination of the lease agreement (including renovating and rerenting)

Most states, such as Delaware, do not have a legal limit on how much a landlord can charge for physical damages except that the charges must be reasonable. However, landlords cannot charge for damages that could be corrected by painting and ordinary cleaning.

If the cost of the damages exceeds the amount of the security deposit, landlords are entitled to seek additional damages from the former tenant.

Landlords cannot collect more than 1 months’ rent  (as an early termination penalty) if the tenant terminates the lease early because they are:

  • Required by their current employer to move more than 30 miles
  • Required to move because of death or serious illness
  • Approved for subsidized, cooperative, or senior housing
  • A victim of domestic abuse, sexual offenses or stalking
  • Called to active military duty
  • Diseased

What is Considered Normal Wear and Tear in Delaware?

Delaware defines “Normal Wear and Tear” as “deterioration in the condition of a property or premises by the ordinary and reasonable use of such property or premises.”

Examples include:

  • Lightly scratched glass
  • Faded flooring
  • Lightly dirtied grout
  • Loose door handles
  • Stained bath fixtures

Damage” is not defined by Delaware Code, but is generally understood to mean destruction to the rental unit that occurs because of abuse or negligence by a tenant.

Examples include:

  • Heavily stained, burned, or torn carpets
  • Broken tiles or windows
  • Holes in the wall
  • Missing fixtures

Can the Landlord Charge for Replacing the Carpet in Delaware?

Landlords can charge for replacing the carpet if it is damaged beyond normal wear and tear and cannot be restored by ordinary cleaning.


A carpet that is slightly discolored or gently worn will be considered normal wear and tear. A carpet with visible stains, major discoloration and rips will be considered excessively damaged.

Can the Landlord Charge for Nail Holes in Delaware?

In Delaware, landlords can charge a tenant for nail holes if they damage the walls in a way that is not a result of ordinary enjoyment of the rental unit.

Tenants have the right to use the walls within their unit in a reasonable way. This includes inserting small nails or thumbtacks to hang posters or pictures.

However, large holes from drilling, multiple nail holes, large nail holes, and holes made for hanging heavier things may be considered damage and thus, chargeable to the tenant.

Can the Landlord Charge a Cleaning Fee in Delaware?

Delaware law allows landlords to charge for damages that cannot be corrected by ordinary cleaning. For example, a landlord might charge for professional cleaning services if the carpets were damaged by smoking and not able to be restored by a vacuum.

Can the Landlord Charge for Painting in Delaware?

Landlords cannot charge for painting.

Security Deposit Returns in Delaware

Landlords must return a security deposit by mail or hand-delivery with a written notice to the tenant’s forwarding address no later than 20 days after the lease term ends.

How Long Do Landlords Have to Return Security Deposits in Delaware?

Delaware landlords have 20 days  after the lease term ends to return any unused portion of the security deposit.

Do Landlords Owe Interest on Security Deposits in Delaware?

Unlike in some states, such as New Jersey, landlords in Delaware do not owe interest on security deposits.

How Do Landlords Give Notice / What Information Do They Have to Provide in Delaware?

Written notice must be sent by hand-delivery or first-class, certified, or registered mail  to the tenant’s forwarding address (or the address noted in the lease agreement) and must include the amount of the security deposit due, if any, to the tenant, plus an itemized statement of deductions.

If the tenant accepts a partial payment but does not object to the itemized list of damages within 10 days of receipt, it is assumed that they agree with the charges.

If a tenant fails to provide a forwarding address, the landlord must continue to hold the security deposit in a bank account for one year. If the tenant does not claim the security deposit within one year, it becomes the property of the landlord.

Can a Security Deposit Be Used for Last Month’s Rent in Delaware?

Delaware law does not forbid the security deposit from being used for any outstanding rent.

Landlords can include a provision in the lease agreement that the security deposit cannot be used for the last month’s rent until the tenant vacates the rental unit.

Security Deposit Disputes in Delaware

If landlords do not return the security deposit within the 20-day period, tenants can file for damages in court up to twice the amount wrongfully withheld plus court costs.

Tenants can also take legal action against a landlord for:

  • Failure to provide an itemized statement when deductions are made
  • Failure to hold the security deposit in a financial account
  • Failure to disclose the name and location of the financial institution
  • Unreasonable deductions

How Can Tenants File a Dispute for a Security Deposit in Delaware?

If a landlord fails to return the security deposit, the tenant can file a dispute in Small Claims Court if the amount of damages is less than $25,000. If the amount is greater, the tenant must file in the Court of Common Pleas.

A small claims case must be filed within three years and an attorney is not required but permitted. Cases are filed in the Small Claims Court in the county where the defendant lives. Filing fees vary from $35 to $45 depending on the type of case filed.