Renter Advice

How to Take Back Your Security Deposit

342 views January 11, 2024 Karina Jugo 5

Tenants should be aware of several important aspects concerning security deposits when renting a home. A security deposit is a sum of money paid by the tenant to the landlord or property manager at the beginning of the lease term. It serves as financial protection for the landlord in case the tenant causes damage to the property, fails to pay rent, or breaches the lease agreement in any way.

Understanding Security Deposits

Here are some essential things tenants should know about security deposits:

  1. Purpose: The primary purpose of a security deposit is to cover any potential damages beyond normal wear and tear and to ensure the tenant fulfills their obligations under the lease.
  2. Amount: Security deposit amounts vary depending on local laws and the landlord’s policies. Typically, it ranges from one to two months’ rent, but some areas may have specific regulations on the maximum amount that can be charged.
  3. Separate Account: In some jurisdictions, landlords are required to hold security deposits in a separate bank account, which is not mingled with their personal funds. This ensures that the money is solely reserved for the tenant’s security deposit purposes.
  4. Documentation: It is essential for tenants to conduct a move-in inspection with the landlord or property manager and document any existing damages or issues in the property. Taking pictures or video can serve as evidence and prevent disputes when it comes time to move out.
  5. Lease Agreement: The lease agreement should clearly outline the terms and conditions regarding the security deposit. It should specify the amount paid, how it will be used, the process for returning the deposit, and any deductions that may be made at the end of the lease.
  6. Returning the Deposit: State and local laws govern the timeline for returning security deposits after the lease ends. Typically, landlords have a certain number of days to return the deposit or provide an itemized list of deductions.
  7. Deductions: Landlords can deduct money from the security deposit for valid reasons, such as unpaid rent, cleaning costs, and repairing damages beyond normal wear and tear. However, they should provide an itemized statement explaining the deductions.
  8. Disputes: If tenants disagree with the deductions made by the landlord, they should communicate their concerns and attempt to resolve the matter amicably. If the issue remains unresolved, tenants may seek legal recourse or mediation as provided by local laws.
  9. Lease Compliance: To ensure the full return of the security deposit, tenants must comply with the terms of the lease, including fulfilling the lease period, notifying the landlord of any repairs needed, and leaving the property in good condition.
  10. Move-Out Procedure: At the end of the lease term, tenants should thoroughly clean the property and return all keys to the landlord. They may also request a final walkthrough to address any potential issues before leaving.

It’s crucial for tenants to understand their rights and responsibilities regarding security deposits to avoid potential conflicts with landlords and ensure a smooth rental experience. It’s advisable to familiarize themselves with local tenant laws, as these can vary significantly depending on the region or country they are renting in.

Will I get back my security deposit in full?

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

1. Write a 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). So show that you mean business and scare them with your litigious side by sending a written request to return your security deposit after moving out.

If you need help with what to put in your formal notification, fill out and send over one of these Requests for Return of Security Deposit forms that are readily available online. Be sure to retain a dated copy for yourself.

If your landlord or property manager works with tenant-friendly rental software, they just might have these forms available as well.

2. Withhold the last month’s rent.

This one is for the daring! I 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. Instead, let the king landlord get the rent from the security deposit. Be wary of late fees, however. But it might be worth taking the cost in some cases, especially if a landlord is notorious for slapping unnecessary charges against the security deposit.

Only use this tactic if you feel the only repairs will result from normal wear and tear. Most landlords will try to charge you for every minor dent and scratch, so this tactic could effectively counter his claims. BUT, if you are responsible for more than that, make sure to pay the difference.

Remember, landlords have control if you are waiting for them to pay you. But if they’re waiting to collect from you, the ball is in your court. This one usually works for everybody, taking the nickel and diming out of the process.

3. Take it to a small claims court.

If all else fails, take legal action. You can double or even triple the amount owed you if the landlord is deemed to have wrongfully withheld the deposit from you. If you plan to send a letter informing the landlord that you are contemplating taking legal action in small claims court, cite the amount you are pursuing and why. They might cough up the deposit right there and then.

It is up to the landlords to prove that tenants are responsible for certain expenses. And even if they can’t back their claims, it will still be wise to prepare yourself for anything that will help strengthen your position. Sometimes, landlords are no-shows, and tenants 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.

Click on the link for everything you need to know about small claims in your state.

Can slight damages be charged against the security deposit?

Here’s one that might surprise you—you are not responsible for repairing worn, reasonably dirty, or slightly spotted carpet. Also, you’re not accountable for dents caused by doorknobs bumping against the wall. These damages are considered normal “wear and tear” for which the landlord is financially responsible.

If you are unsure whether you are responsible for the slight damages, you’re probably not!

My last rental situation had a clause in the lease suggesting that I pay for a mandatory carpet cleaning at the end of the lease, 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.

A Word on Property Owners and Managers

As an aside, property management companies are far more likely to return at least a portion of your deposit in a timely fashion. They are in the business of doing so but are also quick to bureaucratically asses excessive fees for simple things such as trash removal.

Suppose you are renting directly from the owner. In that case, 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.

move out security deposit

A few more valuable tips

I’ll leave you with some more suggestions on how to ensure you will get at least a healthy chunk of that deposit back:

  • Document everything, including the condition of the place before moving in and after you leave, all correspondence with the landlord, and all work orders.
  • Note every damaged area and assess whether it is a result of normal wear and tear or not. Also, be prepared to prove your point.
  • Clean up before moving out and document each step of the cleaning and moving process.
  • Get your stuff out of there on time.
  • Have a walkthrough with the landlord BEFORE you leave, and request the deposit immediately after the walkthrough.
  • Contact your local tenant union–they won’t let you lose.
  • Take it to court and make a stand as a last resort.

Authors

  • Karina Jugo

    Karina Jugo is a content administrator at RentPost who works directly with real estate and property management experts to create resources and guides for property managers. She has more than 15 years of experience in content research and writing for various industries.

  • Jacob Thomason

    Jacob Thomason is the CEO and co-founder of RentPost, software platform providing property managers, landlord or owners with the tools necessary for property management. Jacob is a software entrepreneur with with a vast array of expertise ranging from business concept design to software architecture and development. He is running RentPost for more than 14 years and helping property managers and property owners.

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