How to make sure you get your security deposit back
Tips on how to make getting your security deposit back easier
Landlords routinely fail to return security deposits and many times it is over minor issues that were preventable. Renters or tenants routinely ask how can I get my security deposit back or what can I do to make sure I will get my security deposit back when I leave.
Most renters or tenants lose their security deposit for what landlords call damage to the rental premises. A tenant is to leave a rental unit the way they found it minus “normal wear and tear”. There is no set definition and many states have different positions on what constitutes “normal wear and tear but it is generally straight forward. You want to leave the rental premises in as close as possible to the condition it was in when you moved in.
The following list contains what are usually considered valid reasons for a landlord to keep a security deposit:
- You owe back rent or failed to give sufficient notice of vacating (normally 30 days advance)
- You have damaged the rental unit or property beyond “normal wear and tear” with some examples being:
- floor damage;
- repairs you attempted but made matters worse;
- windows that you broke;
- carpets burns;
- holes in the walls;
- excessive dirt and trash;
- broken doors;
- broken appliances due to tenant neglect or misuse;
- broken tiles in bathroom;
- damage done by your animal;
- You left items that need to be stored or disposed of by the landlord
Below are some great practices to make sure your security deposit is returned:
- Before or at the time you move in do a walk through with the landlord and do an inventory/condition checklist, take pictures with date stamps and have landlord sign checklist. If the landlord refuses to do this, make the checklist yourself and mail it to him by certified mail asking if he disagrees with anything you have on your checklist. If he does ask him to put it in writing. You have now created a paper trail that the landlord will have a hard time disputing when you leave the apartment.
- Contact landlord with any repairs immediately in writing (your lease probably requires this). This way he can not claim there was damage due to your not informing him of a problem. A small water leak can turn into major water damage if not repaired. Many leases contain clauses that you must inform the landlord within a certain time-frame that a problem exists. If you do this in a timely manner you have created another paper trail.
- Let landlord know as soon as possible when you will be vacating your apartment in writing and request the return of your security deposit. Most leases are yearly and if not renewed just expire. However some leases have extension provisions or mandate informing the landlord of your departure within a certain time frame. Additionally, if you are breaking your lease early (Early Release Letter) the more notice you provide the more likely you are to limit the damages you may be exposed to and you may be able to get your security deposit back. In most jurisdictions the landlord has an affirmative duty to try and find a new tenant and you are only responsible for any losses he may incur.
- Clean the rental unit and make sure you clear out everything that belongs to you. In some jurisdictions a landlord may charge you to clean the place. It is not a bad idea to bring in a cleaning service if you can find a cheap one. Additionally, a landlord may be able to charge for removing any items you have left behind. Finally, if you have a lot of trash contact your landlord to see if there is any special way he would like you to dispose of it. There are places that fine homeowner that leave out certain type of trash.
- The best way to make sure you get your security deposit back is to do a walk through with your landlord to determine if he is claiming you have caused any damage beyond normal wear and tear. A few states require this but the majority do not. If you did an inventory/condition check list, when you moved in, use this as a reference. If not and you can get your landlord in before you have moved out this will allow you an opportunity to fix anything that he claims you damaged allowing you to get your security deposit back. Many times these are items that you can fix yourself for a minimal amount of money.
- If you are unable to have your landlord do a walk through make sure you do a inventory/condition checklist yourself and take pictures of the rental premises. You may need these later if your landlord refuses to return your security deposit. Send a letter, certified mail return receipt, to your landlord requesting the return of your security deposit (Security Deposit Request Letter) with a forwarding address for him to mail it to. Make sure you return the keys when you leave.
If you follow these simple rules you will greatly increase your chances of making sure your security deposit is returned.
Our next blog will further address requesting your security deposit (Security Deposit Request Letter) from your landlord and what to do when your landlord still refuses to return it. We will also discuss state timelines regarding the return of security deposits and what you can legally do to ensure the return of your security deposit.