How To Get Your Security Deposit Back

How To Get Your Security Deposit Back
by John Carlucci - January 12, 2023, ,

Moving homes can be exhausting and extremely demanding. However, there’s always something to look forward to - your new home. It’s even more exciting if you’re moving  from a rental to your own home. You will tackle the tasks, like packing and cleaning, with eagerness. A conversation with the landlord (or their agent) is crucial because they have something that belongs to you - the security deposit. 

Most rentals require a security deposit. It’s an upfront 1-3-month rent payment used by landlords as insurance against property damages or breach of the lease by the tenant. Before the landlord refunds the security deposit, they must be satisfied with the state of the house or compelled by a higher authority like a court of law.

We checked with the experts and came up with these tips to help get your security deposit back while intact. But first, you should know what is entitled to you.

Know the Law and Your Rights

In order to know what’s entitled to you, you should familiarize yourself with the laws and your rights as a tenant. The rules vary from state to state. Some jurisdictions cap the amount landlords can demand as a security deposit. In other jurisdictions, the law stipulates timelines for such refunds and directs issues like interest accrued on the money. However, most jurisdictions have similar general rules concerning rental security deposits. 

An understanding of security deposit laws and tenant rights will help you handle the claiming process and guide you in case you would like to sue your landlord.  But let this be a last resort action. Below are tips to help get your security deposit back without hassles.

Rent Smart - Avoid Jerk Landlords

All the real estate experts on our team agreed that the best way to get your security deposit back is by having a strategic start. Entrust your home and security deposit to a good landlord and you’ll have peace of mind when moving out. But how can you tell a “good landlord” from a jerk?

Before you sign the lease and move in, learn as much as possible about the landlord or their managing agent. Check out review websites like Yelp.com and ApartmentRatings.com, and read reviews about the landlord before moving in. Or, simply type the landlord’s or agent’s name on a search engine and see what comes up. If there are too many complaints from other renters, it is better not to move in in the first place. On the other hand, good landlords often have a track record of timely refunds.

Read and Document

Before moving out (and when you are moving in), remember to read (and re-read) the lease agreement.

The contract will help you understand the landlord’s perspective and handle tasks like giving the moving-out notice and other processes like a moving-out inspection. The contract would also include a clause on the turnaround time for refunds. 

Walk around the house and document any existing damage before moving in. Take photos showing these faults and the general condition of the home and share them with the landlord both when moving in and moving out.

With such evidence, the landlord cannot pin existing damage on you. They will have to foot the repair bill from their coffers, not your security deposit.

Stay on Top of Things

A neat record of the house condition at lease commencement and termination is crucial. But wear and tear, and accidents are often inevitable. The landlord can use the security deposit to fix stuff in the house. But you can do something (in advance) to protect your security deposit - stay on top of repairs.

If you notice a small leak in the faucet or a loose screw somewhere, alert the landlord and request they fix it immediately. If you delay or procrastinate, the minor fault could become a worse problem and fall on your tab. Plus, when you stay on point and quick about getting repairs and cleaning done, you will live in a better environment - a double win. 

Give Your Landlord Notice That You’re Moving Out

Now that you thoroughly know the terms of your lease and laws and understand the state of the house, you can give the landlord appropriate notice.

Although the rules may differ, depending on your jurisdiction, a 30-day notice is generally within the expectation. But be sure to re-read the terms of your lease so you may comply with the notification period and other terms. If you do not meet the terms, you could end up paying an additional month’s rent and waiting longer for a refund of your deposit.

Once you’ve given notice, you can do the following:

Repair Damages

If you discover that you are responsible for some unrepaired damages, do the honorable thing and fix them before moving out. This may require liaising with the landlord and requesting they send professionals to assess and repair the damage. 

This would be on your tab. If the work is extensive and you might need to dig deeper into your pocket, consider splitting the job. Do minor repairs like patching the holes in the walls and fixing loose sockets and cables yourself. Then leave the pros to handle more complicated repairs.  

Remember, you are doing it to keep your security deposit intact. 

Thorough-clean the Home 

Now that the repairs are over and your stuff is out, do a deep clean of the home. Thoroughly vacuum every room, clear out and wipe the refrigerator and closets, scrub the floors, sinks, and bathrooms and ensure the house is spotless.

A clean home with a fresh smell is an excellent way to make landlords tip over and refund the security deposit in full.

Ask your Landlord to do a Walk-through and Return the Keys

After completing the repairs and cleaning, you can request the landlord to do a walk-through of the home with you.

Take notes of any requests they may have and check against your original checklist for who is responsible. Once the walkthrough is complete, give the landlord your forwarding address so they know where to send the security deposit. 

After the walk-through, and if both parties are satisfied, you can return all keys to your landlord. If you have lost a key, ensure the landlord knows immediately and be ready to pay for the replacement of the key or the lock altogether. 

Photo by PhotoMIX Company

Follow up with the Landlord

If all goes well, the landlord will return your deposit. Ensure you maintain a copy of the lease, and know what the law says. If the landlord exceeds the stipulated period, you can follow up in writing and also call them.

If there is some disagreement, try to come to some amicable solution. Ensure you document the agreement, and both parties sign it; it is a legal document and is admissible in court. If negotiations don’t work, write a demand letter, and if things get out of hand, remember you can sue the landlord in a small claims court. 

Here’s a Summary of What To Do to Get Your Security Deposit Back 

  • Know the law and your rights - renters’ security deposit is often a legal issue. Knowing the relevant state laws and your rights will help you choose a rental and navigate through the security deposit return. 
  • Rent smart- do a background check of your landlord before renting the place. 
  • Meticulously read the lease agreement and document any existing faults.
  • Give appropriate notice
  • Repair damages and thoroughly clean the home. 
  • Do a walk-through with the landlord and return the keys
  • Follow up for payment (after the legally stipulated period)
  •  If there’s a problem, sue the landlord in a small claims court.
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