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.
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.