Want your security deposit back? Things to keep in mind

By: on 2016-09-16
Ask Phil Bradford

Are you planning to shift your apartment? Are you worried about getting back your security deposit? Yes? DON’T WORRY!

A tenant has to keep in mind certain things right from occupying to leaving the apartment. Check out the points given below to make sure you get back the money you’ve shelled out:

1. Do your research

When you want to move in, do proper research about the leasing company, property name, landlord’s name, and other details. How will you do it? Just Google all that you want to know and you’ll get it.

You can also check the BBB’s (Better Business Bureau) online business listings for the leasing company’s name or ask the landlord if they’re connected with the BBB.

2. Fill out a rental inspection checklist

You should fill out a rental inspection checklist before moving into the apartment. Don’t get too much impressed by the apartment that you don’t notice any flaws.

Before unpacking your luggage take pictures or videos of your apartment.

If you do this, your landlord or the leasing company can’t blame you for causing damage to the apartment. Once you’ve filled out the entire checklist, put the date and get it signed by your landlord and make copies for you and your landlord. In short, document everything and inspect the new residence carefully before you sign the lease.

The apartment office often gives a form, where you need to fill out the details about the damages you observe. Usually, they give at least 1-2 weeks time, because unless you start living in, you won’t be able to jot down the problems.

3. Follow the rules

If you break the terms of your lease, you can easily lose your security deposit at the hands of your landlord. You must know and follow your landlord’s policies before customizing your apartment like installing new lights, having pets or painting the walls.

Even if you’ve received a verbal permission to customize your apartment, make sure you get it in writing.

4. Review your lease carefully

Like most renters, most landlords forget about the agreement when your lease is about to expire. To be on the safe side, keep everything in writing. Read your lease minutely and carefully, and try to understand each and every point before signing. Leases are not engraved in stone, they can be altered.

You can make changes if you find something unreasonable like giving three month's notice before leaving.

5. Clean up any mess

Remember “cleanliness is godliness”? Yes! It can help you get back your security deposit fast. Though leaving your apartment untidy is not a reason for losing your security deposit, yet you shouldn’t give your landlord an excuse to delay the process by messing up things in the apartment. Try to keep your apartment clean and tidy as much as possible when you leave it.

Talk to your landlord before doing any repair work.

Don’t take the chance of turning minor damage into major damage and end up losing your security deposit.

Do you have pets? If your answer is yes, then clean your apartment regularly, open the windows, get an air filter, and clear any debris or stains as soon as you find it.

6. Know renter rights in your state

Suppose you get a bill from your landlord stating that most of your security deposit has been withheld for some home repair charges. What will you do? Know your renter rights first. Also, check your state Attorney General website to know what kind of protections you’re entitled to.

Each state has different security deposit laws. Landlords can deduct a tenant's security deposit provided they do it for a correct reason. Many states ask the landlords to provide proper documentation of deductions for unpaid rents, repair works, cleaning works that exceed the normal wear and tear, deposit balance, and so on.

States like Louisiana, North Carolina or West Virginia enforce the landlord to give you a written account of charges of your security deposit.

The deadline within which the landlord should hand over your security deposit also vary from state to state.

Usually, the landlord returns the security deposit 14 to 30 days after the renter moves out - either voluntarily or by eviction.

If your landlord is unable to show you correct documentation of the deductions, make sure you take the money with you on your way out - after all, the security deposit is your hard earned money.

7. Give proper notice

Before leaving the apartment you must provide a written notice to your landlord. Never rely on a conversation. If you fail to provide proper notice, your landlord may use your security to pay for one additional rental period.

  • You’ll be subject to extra fees if your landlord asks for a make up of your ignorance while moving out.
    • Don’t forget to handover your keys before leaving. Make sure you hand over the duplicate keys as well.

8. Mention your forwarding address

Whether or not your landlord asks you about your forwarding address, you should inform him/her about the same in writing before stepping out of the apartment.

In many states, landlords aren’t responsible for the security deposit refund if they aren’t provided a forwarding address.

9. Take the final walk with your landlord

Few landlords walk through the apartment when a tenant leaves. Try to do this together with your landlord. It would help you to see what charges you’ll be responsible for.

Also, don’t forget to cross check with your rental inspection checklist.

If you’re leaving at odd hours and your landlord can’t take the final walk with you, make sure you ask from your landlord or the leasing office about the formalities needed to be done. Usually, you need to fill out a form and the landlord will inform you where to deposit the keys along with other required formalities.

10. Sue in the small claims court

What will you do if your landlord does not respond to your notice or wrongfully retain your security deposit? If this happens, you can file a lawsuit in the small claims court.

The small claims limit in most states is from $3,000 to $5,000.

But, before you sue your landlord check your state’s small claims court limit for the details. Usually, filing a small claim can cost you between $10 to $50. Moreover, you won’t require a lawyer as your case directly goes before a judge within a month or so.

To sum up things:

  • 1. Leave your apartment in the best condition possible
  • 2. Document any cleaning and repair work
  • 3. Follow the conditions of your lease
  • 4. Return all the keys when you leave
  • 5. Get everything in writing

Are you finding it difficult to get back your security deposit? If so, then review details of your lease, check other details carefully and take necessary steps. Remember, it’s your money and you owe every bit of it.

Last Updated on: Fri, 16 Sep 2016

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