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You’re about to move out of your apartment, so you hand over the keys and then you wait for your security deposit. And wait. And wait. Finally you get it and it’s a quarter of what you thought it would be. Has this ever happened to you or to a friend? Here’s how to make sure you always get your security deposit back in full.
Before you move into any rental building, read reviews about the property management and/or landlord. You might be shocked by what you read. Tenants may be dealing with repeated maintenance or billing issues, or they may have had issues getting their deposits back. If you see any major red flags, find another rental. Red flags are never worth it in real estate. Also, for everyone that wrote a review, imagine how many didn’t. Problems are usually much larger than they appear.
Don't move into places with reviews like this ^^
Ask Tough Questions
When meeting with property management, ask them for examples of tenants who did not have their security deposits returned and the reasons that they’ve held onto security deposits before. Also, ask for the name of the landlord and then use the internet to look up associated court records from past tenant suits (you may find that the landlord has sued tenants or that tenants have sued the landlord). If the management is being shady or refusing to name the landlord, consider renting elsewhere. Also ask the process that you can expect to follow upon move out and the timeframe in which you can expect to receive your deposit.
Read Your Lease and Building Policies Carefully Before Signing and Move In
Make sure to know and follow policies set forth by your landlord. A lease is a contract and you’re expected to uphold your end of the bargain. If you terminate your lease prematurely or cause damage, you can expect to pay the price.
Take Pictures When You Move In
Snap detailed photos of all areas and fixtures in the apartment before you move in your stuff. Remember, you may have to return to these if your landlord challenges you about the condition of the apartment when you move out. Make sure to get pictures of the floors, counters, and things that are prone to breaking: doorknobs, sinks, handles, etc.
Keep All The Copies!
Keep an organized folder with copies of your lease, pictures from your move in, a copy of your security deposit check, rent stubs from all the months you paid rent, utility bills, and any other forms that you completed.
Fill Out a Rental Inspection Checklist
If your landlord provides a rental inspection checklist upon move in, go through it carefully and be sure to keep a copy. It’s tempting to rush through it because you’re probably excited to move your stuff in but this form is very important. If your landlord doesn’t provide one, use one from the web, Here's a sample. and ask that the maintenance supervisor sign and acknowledge it on the date of your move in. If they refuse, as least provide an electronic version of the checklist to your landlord of maintenance copy via email. You can use this later to show that you documented all of the conditions of the apartment and supplied it to the management company on the date of your move in. If you do uncover maintenance while conducting your inspection, let the maintenance supervisor know right away and make sure they’re taken care of.
Get Maintenance Issues Settled Long Before Move Out
If you are having a maintenance issue during your rental, make sure to alert the management company as soon as possible and try to get it remedied long before move out. Keep copies of any emails or letters you send to management about any maintenance issues that didn’t get remedied before move out.
Hire a Professional Cleaner Before You Leave
One of the most frequent reasons that landlords take money out of your security deposit is for cleaning. If you leave your apartment a mess, your landlord will charge you for the time and expense required to clean the place up. Read your lease to determine the condition you need to leave the apartment in. Generally, you are expected to leave rentals “broom swept clean.” A great way to make sure that you don’t incur charges for cleaning is to hire a professional cleaner (I prefer TaskRabbit because I can read reviews of the cleaners and see their varying prices) to deep clean on your way out. Keep a receipt and take pictures after the cleaning is done.
Fill In Holes in the Wall
Did you nail a bunch of pictures into your wall? Your landlord can charge you for patching those holes. Use a light weight wall compound and spackle like to fill them in and avoid a bunch of small charges. Here's what I use:
If you painted your apartment’s walls, you better paint them back, unless your lease explicitly allows for you to paint and leave the walls a new color. Otherwise, your landlord can charge you for repainting.
Upon Move Out, Let Your Landlord Know You Expect to Receive Your Deposit
On the way out, get in touch with your landlord to thank them and note that you’ll be expecting your security deposit by X date. Also, leave a forwarding address. Mention that you hired a professional cleaner and have taken photos to document the condition of the apartment. Follow up on X date if you still don’t have your security deposit and ask for an update and confirmation that it has been sent.
Did You Do All The Things Above and Still Haven’t Received Your Deposit?
Send a demand letter to your landlord that includes the following:
Introduce yourself and mention your apartment number or address that you rented
Explain that you expected to receive your security deposit in the amount of X by Y date
Include copies of relevant agreements and pictures
Cite the law
Consider seeking the guidance of a friend or family member with a legal background to help you craft the letter
If Your Demand Letter Doesn't Make A Difference...
Take your landlord to small claims court. Make sure you have evidence to support your case. The entire case will only take a few minutes. Expect that the landlord will come with an attorney but don’t be intimidated – know your rights and bring your evidence. Good luck!