As a renter, you know what your price range is and what you're looking for in an apartment, but do you know your rights? Last year when I was apartment hunting in Brooklyn, I was shocked to learn that it was possible that a potential new landlord might ask for 6 months' rent up front for my security deposit (luckily that didn't end up being the case, but still!). I'd always just assumed security deposits were always an additional month or two months' rent, sometimes a little more if you had pets. As it turns out, many states have different legal limits for security deposits, so if you aren't familiar with yours, you might want to read up.
For quite a few states, the legal limit for security deposits is two months' rent, according to Nolo, an online legal resource. That includes Arkansas, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, and Virginia. For a few others—District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island—the limit is one month's rent, and for Arizona and Michigan, it's one and a half month's rent.
There were also several states that account for special circumstances like pets, age, waterbeds (weird?) and whether an apartment is furnished or unfurnished. Here are all the states whose limits were a little more nuanced:
Alabama: One month's rent, except for pet deposits, deposits to cover undoing tenant's alterations, deposits to cover tenant activities that pose increased liability risks.
Alaska: Two months' rent, unless rent exceeds $2,000 per month. Landlord may ask for an additional month's rent as deposit for a pet that is not a service animal, but may use it only to remedy pet damage.
California: Two months' rent (unfurnished); three months' rent (furnished). Add extra one-half month's rent for waterbed.
Connecticut: Two months' rent (tenant under 62 years of age); one month's rent (tenant 62 years of age or older)
Delaware: One month's rent on leases for one year or more; no limit for month-to-month rental agreements (may require additional pet deposit of up to one month's rent). No limit for rental of furnished units. Tenant may offer to supply a surety bond in lieu of or in conjunction with a deposit, which landlord may elect to receive.
Hawaii: One month's rent; Landlord may require an additional one month's rent as security deposit for tenants who keep a pet.
Kansas: One month's rent (unfurnished); one and one-half month's rent (furnished); for pets, add extra one-half month's rent.
Nebraska: One month's rent (no pets); one and one-quarter months' rent (pets).
Nevada: Three months' rent; if both landlord and tenant agree, tenant may use a surety bond for all or part of the deposit.
New Hampshire: One month's rent or $100, whichever is greater; no limit when landlord and tenant share facilities.
New Jersey: One and one-half month's rent. Any additional security deposit, collected annually, may be no greater than 10 percent of the current security deposit.
New Mexico: One month's rent (for rental agreement of less than one year); no limit for leases of one year or more.
North Carolina: One and one-half months' rent for month-to-month rental agreements; two months' rent if term is longer than two months; may add an additional "reasonable," nonrefundable pet deposit.
North Dakota: One month's rent (or if tenant has a pet, not to exceed the greater of $2,500 or amount equal to two months' rent).
Pennsylvania: Two months' rent for first year of renting; one month's rent during second and subsequent years of renting.
South Dakota: One month's rent (higher deposit may be charged if special conditions pose a danger to maintenance of the premises).
As for the rest of the states not listed here (including New York, at least for non-regulated units), they have no statutory limit—meaning there's no legal specification of what landlords can charge in that state.
To read more in-depth information about your state's laws when it comes to renting and security deposits, head to Nolo and click on your state.