Get Your Security Deposit Back

You probably won’t be staying in your current apartment forever — so what happens when you move out? Odds are that when you signed the lease you had to put down a significant amount of money as a security deposit. When you move out, you’ll want that money refunded to you. But that process doesn’t always go as planned. Here are some tips to help you get your full security deposit back.

Before you sign a lease
There are things you can do to protect yourself well before you sign a lease. Find out as much information about the landlord as you can, and make sure the amount of the security deposit is specified in the lease. (To learn more about the parts of a standard lease, read Understand Your Lease Before Signing It.)

Do a walkthrough, noting areas of existing wear or damage, and get your landlord to sign off on the list. If you see something that needs addressing, or you have to do repairs yourself, make sure to get before-and-after photographs with time stamps. If you have to get a professional involved, get your landlord’s permission.

Wear and tear vs. damage
When you’re ready to move out, it’s time to clean the place. The general rule of thumb is that landlords cannot deduct for “ordinary wear and tear” to the apartment. Nolo.com has a good chart comparing “ordinary wear and tear” to damage the tenant can be held responsible for.

Cleaning house
It may be worth it, depending on the size of your security deposit, to hire professionals to do the final cleaning. Whether you do it yourself or outsource the job, make sure areas you might miss in day-to-day cleaning (the oven, for example, or the floor under the refrigerator) get thoroughly cleaned. This is going to take some time, by the way, so make sure to allot time between moving out the last of your belongings and the handing over of keys.

When will I get my money back?
Every state has its own laws stating when the security deposit must be returned. Start with Nolo.com’s list of security deposit deadlines by state and contact your state’s attorney general or a local tenants’ rights association to learn more about the state laws applicable to your case. The landlord should provide you with either your security deposit (make sure to leave your new address!) or an itemized statement detailing how the money was used to bring the apartment back to an acceptable condition. If you haven’t received your check in the allotted time, send a certified letter asking for it.

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