Tenants, Take Back Your Security Deposits

Stop worrying about whether your security deposit will be returned at lease end. No need to feel powerless, subject to the whim of king landlord. Here are some great tips and pieces of knowledge to help YOU take control, and take back what is rightfully yours.

If you are unsure of whether you are responsible for the slight damages -You’re Probably Not! Here’s one that might surprise you: you are not responsible for repairing worn, reasonably dirty or slightly spotted carpet. Also, not responsible for dents in wall from where the doorknob might bump into the wall. More on that too – this link will guide you on what you are responsible for as a tenant: www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/chart-29017.html

-These damages are considered normal “wear and tear” for which the landlord is financially responsible. My last rental situation had a clause in the lease suggesting that I pay for a mandatory carpet cleaning at lease end, regardless of the carpet’s condition. Yeah, right. Simply, it wasn’t my responsibility, and despite the fact that it was built into the lease, it was not lawfully enforceable (just because it’s on paper doesn’t mean it’s carved in stone).

Formal Notification-Your landlord does not have unlimited time to return the money owed to you. In most states, the statutory maximum is 30 days (even if your lease agreement says otherwise). Show that you mean business; fill out and send over one of these Requests for Return of Security Deposit and scare ‘em with your litigious side: http://www.rentalsonline.com/forms/movedeposituse.asp

Be sure to retain a dated copy for yourself.

YOU CAN GET DOUBLE, OR EVEN TRIPLE THE AMOUNT OWED TO YOU if the landlord is deemed to have wrongfully withheld the deposit from you – if you send a letter informing the landlord that you are intending to take legal action in small claims court – cite the amount that you are pursuing and why (he might just cough up the deposit right then).

You will probably win in small claims court… The landlord is responsible to prove that you are responsible for certain expenses; if s/he can’t prove it than you win without proving anything yourself (despite this, prepare yourself for anything). Sometimes, landlords are no-shows and you may win by default. These proceedings are not overly difficult or time consuming, so look into them. Don’t let hundreds and even thousands of dollars fall by the wayside. Here’s everything you need to know about small claims in your state: www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/statearticlegroup-31016.html

Withhold your last month’s rent – this one is for the daring! I almost hesitate to inform tenants of this, as some might worsen the situation if done improperly. Most deposits are also used for rent not collected, SO if you are concerned that the landlord will not return your deposit for all the wrong reasons, don’t just cut that last check. Let king landlord get the rent money out of the deposit (be wary of late fees – but it might be worth taking the fee). Only use this tactic if you feel that the only repairs will be a result of normal wear and tear – most landlords will try to charge you for the wear and tear, so this tactic could be an effective way to counter his claims. BUT, if you are responsible for more than just the wear and tear, make sure to pay the difference. Remember, if you are waiting on the landlord to pay you, than s/he has the control, but if s/he is waiting to collect from you, than you control the tempo.  This one usually works for everybody, and it takes the nickel and diming out of the process.

As an aside, property management companies are far more likely to return at least a portion of your deposit in a timely fashion, as they are in business to do so, but they are quick to bureaucratically asses excessive fees for simple things such as trash removal. If you are renting directly from the owner, there is an increased chance of wrongful withholding of your deposit, as these owners are typically unfamiliar with industry standards, legislation, and rules of thumb. Your deposit is always more vulnerable when at the mercy of the actual property owner.

I’ll leave you with the final tips to ensure you will get at least a healthy chunk of that deposit back:

-Document everything: the condition of the place before moving in and after you leave; all correspondence with landlord; all work orders

-Get your stuff out of there on time

-Clean Up! (document the clean)

-Have a walk through with the landlord BEFORE you leave, and request the deposit immediately after the walkthrough

-Note every damaged area and asses whether it is normal wear and tear or not (be prepared to prove your point)

-Contact your local tenant union (they won’t let you lose)

-Actually take it to court – make a stand

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Tony Salloum


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By Tony Salloum

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