If you’re new to renting an apartment or condo and have never dealt with getting a security deposit back, you may be apprehensive about navigating this often touchy subject on move-out day. Luckily, there are some easy steps you can take to make sure you get your full deposit back, or at least get an itemized breakdown of why your deposit is being withheld.
Unfortunately, many landlords will do everything in their power to keep your security deposit, which is why you must take the necessary steps to protect yourself from this. This isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of reasonable honest landlords that will happily return your security deposit as long as you leave your apartment in the same condition as when you moved in, but there are plenty of landlords who will do just about anything to keep it for themselves.
The first, and maybe the most important, thing you can do to protect yourself in this situation is to fill out the move-in walkthrough paperwork in detail. Make sure you take pictures of any existing damage before you even move your first box in. Take pictures of every room in its entirety, as well as close ups on damage (if any), that way during the move out walk through the landlord can’t blame any damage that was already there on you. Be sure to turn this paper work in promptly, preferably before you even move in, if that’s an option. Often there is fine print at the bottom of these documents that requires you to turn them in within a certain range of time, or the document becomes void, so make sure to get it in on time. It doesn’t hurt to make a copy of this document for yourself as well, just so you have it on file in the case of any discrepancies.
The second step goes without saying, but take care of your apartment while you’re in it. I don’t mean you have to sweep, mop, and vacuum every other day or anything, but just generally stay on top of maintenance. If there are things that need fixing, make sure to call maintenance right away before a small problem becomes a large expensive problem. If your landlord or rental agency sees you taking the time and energy to make sure your place is kept in good shape, they will be more likely to return your deposit without a fuss.
When it comes time to move out, take the time to do an extra round of deep cleaning. You want everything to look pristine when your landlord comes to do their walkthrough, that way there’s nothing that they can claim as a reason for withholding your deposit. It might even be a good idea in places that have carpet to hire a carpet cleaning service to do a deep clean right before you’re about to move out. This will take any ground-in dirt and grime out of your apartment’s carpets, and make the place smell nice for the walkthrough. If possible, ask your landlord to do the walkthrough while you’re present so you can talk through any possible issues with them, or let them know what damage was there when you moved in (this is a good time to have those pictures handy). Some landlords won’t allow you to be there for the walkthrough, opting to do it at their leisure, but it can’t hurt to ask. If you can’t be there for the walkthrough, be sure to take pictures of your apartment when you move out, so you have evidence of what it looked like when you left.
The only thing that’s left at this point is making sure you drop off the keys on time, and leave a forwarding address for your landlord or rental agency. They’ll need to know where to send your deposit once they’ve approved your refund. If you follow these steps, and take care of your apartment, it shouldn’t be any problem to get your security deposit back. The main thing is to make sure there aren’t any glaring issues that they can blame you for, but with proper attention to detail during your move out cleaning, you can take care of most of these issues.
In the event that your landlord tries to keep your security deposit, even after taking all of the proper precautions and steps to protect yourself, it can be a good idea to threaten a suit in small claims court. Often the threat of legal action will get a quick reaction from your landlord or agency. Just make sure there isn’t actually any citable reason for why they are keeping your deposit before threatening legal action. You don’t want to get to court just to lose, then you’ll be out of even more money.
Most of the time if you take care of your apartment, have proper documentation of existing damages and the condition that you left it in, and are a good tenant in the time that you are renting, there will be no reason for your landlord or leasing agency to keep your security deposit upon moving out. Most of the time, getting your security deposit back is just a painless request after moving out, but it’s still important to have proper documentation to back yourself up in the case of any shady business from your landlord or leasing agency.