5 Steps to Take to Make Sure You Get Your Security Deposit Back
When you move into a new apartment, condo, or home, it can be exciting to decorate your new space and make it your own. However, if you don’t take care of your rental, you might end up losing that security deposit because your landlord will keep the money (or a portion of it) to pay for any damages you cause to the rental. In order to avoid losing your security deposit, you will need to maintain your apartment and be careful to follow any rules set out in the lease. However, you should also take certain preventative measures so that your landlord can’t claim that you caused damages that you didn’t actually cause. While most landlords and property managers are trustworthy, it’s always better to protect yourself. Here are five steps that you should take so that you get your security deposit back when you move out.
1. Know the law
Before you sign anything, be sure you know what your landlord can legally request for a security deposit. The amount varies from state to state, but many states limit the amount to one or two months’ rent. However, you also might need to add an extra deposit if you have pets. Some states have no statutory limit at all, so be sure that you know the law before you sign a lease. Also, be sure that the amount paid is documented, so that you get what you paid back when you move. Other landlord-tenant laws will vary depending on where you live, so be sure you look into those as well. Read over your lease, and take note of what your responsibilities are so that you know what you need to do to get your security deposit back.
2. Take photos
Before you move in, take photos of your entire rental space so that you will have them if your landlord tries to keep your security deposit; that way you can dispute any inaccuracies with photo documentation. Take close-ups of any areas that you think could require care. Your landlord should provide you with a list of any issues in the apartment, but if not, ask for one before you move in. It’s also best to write down any other problems that you find, in addition to taking photos. Even stains or small holes in the wall should be included, otherwise you could lose part of your deposit later.
3. Document everything
In addition to taking photos ahead of time, once you move in, you should document everything. If you experience a problem with your dishwasher, make sure you write down when it happened, and pay attention and document how long it takes your landlord to fix it. If you accidentally hit the wall while moving furniture, and it makes a small hole, be sure that you take a photo and document the issue. Then ask if you can fix it yourself, or get help (your lease might provide an answer.) The most important thing is that you keep track of all issues so that if the problems become bigger and your landlord doesn’t deal with them, you won’t be blamed. It’s also a good idea to share any damage with your landlord when it happens, so that if the damage is due to a problem out of your control (like an electrical issue), you can’t be blamed if the problem leads to other issues (like an electrical fire.)
4. Ask first
Some landlords will appreciate if you renovate your apartment or house, but this isn’t a universal truth. Remember that even if you think you are improving the value of the rental, the rental still belongs to the owner, so you need to ask permission first. Again, make sure you have permission in writing before you begin. Also, unless you plan to live in the rental for many years, your renovations are probably a waste of money since you don’t own the space; if you really think that a particular part of the rental needs updating, ask if your landlord will do it. If your landlord does agree to let you renovate, stick with affordable changes that make a noticeable difference, like painting or updating hardware.
5. Plan ahead
You need to notify your landlord if you are going to move, usually in writing. Most leases will specify a certain date that you must notify your landlord by. If you have a month-to-month lease, this isn’t as big of an issue, but you still need to make sure that you give adequate notice. If your lease is about the run out after a year, you also need to give notice. Often, landlords can deduct money from your security deposit if you end your lease early (therefore owing rent), so it is very important that you notify your landlord when you intend to move. If you must end your lease early, you can ask your landlord if you can find another tenant to replace you.
If you follow these five steps, you will have a good chance of getting your deposit back. Of course, you also need to take care of the rental. Even if you document everything, and give proper notice, you won’t get your deposit back if you trash the rental. If you think that your landlord is keeping a portion (or all) of your deposit unfairly, according to NOLO, you should first discuss the issue with your landlord, then put your concerns in writing, and then if that doesn’t work, you may have to consider suing your landlord. Hopefully it won’t get to this point, and if it does, make sure you have evidence to back up your claim.