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When I rented my first apartment, and had to come up with a large sum of money—especially back then—in a short period of time. I later learn that when I signed the lease, the apartment manager expected my roommate and I to write a check that covered the first month’s rent and a security deposit (which was equal to a month’s rent).
In my case, the security deposit actually became the last month’s rent. I never had any problems, but having $1200 tied up can be a little troublesome, especially just after graduating from college!
Fortunately, security deposits are not rare. If you take certain steps to protect yourself, and if your landlord isn’t a jerk, you can reasonably ensure that your security deposit refund makes its way back into your savings account.
Security Deposit Tips Before Moving In
It’s important to read and understand your lease. It will state what you’re responsible for with respect to the security deposit.
For example, in the first apartment I rented out of college, the lease said I was not required to clean the apartment before we left. Our security deposit covered damage only, and the landlord would handle the cleaning themselves.
On the first day, go through the apartment with the landlord and identify any existing problems the apartment already has. If there’s a red wine stain on the carpet, you want that to be noted in the initial walk-through, so you’re not held responsible for the extra cost to have the stain removed.
When paying the security deposit, keep a good record of how much you paid, the cancelled check and ask for a receipt.
What to Do While You’re Renting
The security deposit is there to protect the landlord in the event that you damage the property in some way. Damage comes in many forms and it really depends on how nitpicky your landlord is. Some landlords are more flexible than others.
Security deposit deductions may arise if they see holes in the walls from nail damage. Landlords may ignore the small stuff and only focus on more significant damage, such as tears in carpet.
Regardless of how your landlord’s temperament, treat the apartment as your own and keep it well maintained to avoid adding onto the cost of renting. Don’t leave dirty dishes or food sitting around as it could attract rodents or ants, which may result in more significant problems later on. If you damage the apartment in some way, try to fix it unless it’s significant (in which case you’ll want to tell your landlord).
Security Deposit Refund When Moving Out
The best way to avoid surprises is to be there when the landlord, or representative, does the final walk-through of the apartment. Obtain a checklist of all the things your landlord is looking for and their final determination, before moving out.
If there’s a problem, get documentation of why they believe the damage is an issue, pull out your cell phone and take a picture. After the walk-through, get a signed document indicating everything was fine (or noting any problems if there were any) that you can use to recover your security deposit if the landlord gives you trouble.
Leave a forwarding address with your landlord so they know where to send your security deposit refund. Most states have laws that set a deadline as to when this money must be returned to you, including an itemized list of what was deducted, if any.
You can always dispute deductions and write a demand letter addressed to the landlor —a necessary step before a lawsuit in small claims court. With these tips, however, you can help yourself avoid having to go down that road.