Tips To Make Sure You Get Your Security Deposit Back

by Emily Guy Birken · 7 comments

In the hustle of moving into a new apartment and getting yourself and your stuff settled in, it can be easy to forget about your security deposit. After all, most landlords don’t even give those back.

You have enough on your mind, so why worry about a security deposit? Because the security deposit is your money, and you should be able to take it with you when your lease ends.

Before you move in, you should know these five tips for ensuring you get your security deposit back:

Upon Move-In

1. Read all your paperwork.

This should go without saying, but many of us simply sign leases and other paperwork after only a cursory glance. Your lease and other attendant paperwork should tell you exactly what your landlord expects in terms of your apartment’s care and upkeep.

If that information isn’t spelled out, or is sketchy, then it falls upon you to discuss the expectations with your landlord. You want to be on the same page with him regarding what sorts of wear and damage would constitute his keeping the security deposit.

2. Fill out the condition report — and take pictures.

The advent of digital photography makes the walk-through with the apartment condition report much simpler. While landlords should provide you with a simple room checklist where you can make a note of any pre-existing wear or damage, you can really help yourself by recording each instance with a picture.

Even if your landlord doesn’t provide you with a condition report, you need to make one yourself, accompanied by photographs. Once you’ve done this, make two copies: one to keep, and one to give to your landlord.

Ask your landlord to sign off on the condition report that you’ve filled out. Let him know that if you don’t receive the sign-off from him within a reasonable amount of time — two to three weeks, for example — you’ll assume that he agrees with the condition report.

While Living There

3. Keep the apartment clean and in good working order.

The reason so many landlords don’t allow pets is they know their tenants won’t clean up after them. Don’t be that tenant. Clean up after yourself, your pets, your children, your guests, etc. Remember that this place doesn’t belong to you, and that you do need to cover any damage above normal wear and tear.

When Moving Out

4. Leave yourself time to clean.

Even if you’ve paid a non-refundable cleaning deposit, you still need to spend an afternoon (or day, depending on how long you’ve lived there) doing some serious cleaning. Generally, the cleaning that your non-refundable deposit paid for should be the type of stuff that can’t be done by an individual with normal cleaning supplies — like steam cleaning the carpet. Don’t leave scuff marks on the kitchen floor and candle wax on the walls and assume the cleaning deposit will cover it.

5. Do a walk-through with your landlord.

Using the pictures and condition report from your move-in, show your landlord that you’ve left your apartment in reasonable and rent-able condition. Make sure he signs an agreement stating that.

Remember that the security deposit is meant to take care of any repairs necessary (above and beyond the wear and tear that will normally occur through occupancy). As long as you follow these tips, there’s no reason why your landlord should hold on to that money.

What has your rental experience been? Have you ever left a lease without getting your deposit back?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Marbella September 14, 2012 at 5:50 am

Do not give the landlord money in hand, put them in his bank account so you have a really good proof that you have submitted the money.

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Shane September 18, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Good idea, I have checks and it is included in my rental agreement so there is proof on both sides.

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Lance@MoneyLife&More September 14, 2012 at 9:57 am

I always creaked out about not getting my deposit back but always did. We cleaned meticulously before we would leave and did take pictures to go with the condition forms when we moved in, though.

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Garrett September 15, 2012 at 10:37 am

Is it really that common that landlords refuse to return security deposits for no good reason?

Over the years I’ve rented apartments in the US and Canada with all kinds of paperwork and never had an issue. Maybe I was just a little lucky. One thing is that I only ever entered into agreements with owners that I liked and trusted. There’s more involved to renting a place than just the place itself, in my mind.

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Shane September 17, 2012 at 11:07 am

I have almost never gotten my deposit back even after doing a really good clean once everything is moved out. I have even tried getting it back in some cases and short of going ot court which wasn’t worth my time I had no recourse.

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khatlady September 20, 2012 at 7:54 am

Keep good documentation and pictures. When I moved out, had the carpet cleaned and the place was immaculate. They tried to charge me for the damage done when the washing machine upstairs overflowed and damaged the ceiling. They used two different types of paint. Also tried to charge for for 7 hours of cleaning. That one I had my brother, an attorney write them a letter. We have different last names.

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Tarek September 23, 2012 at 9:41 am

I got back every single deposit I paid except one.

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