How to Get Your Security Deposit Back

by Sandy Hess
Negative human emotions. Financial problems. Portrait of unhappy young couple having looking worried while reading notification informing them about eviction from appartment because of unpaid bills

Did your landlord require you to pay a security deposit when you moved into your rental property? Ever wondered what happened to that money?

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Your landlord collects that money as security in case you do any damage while you live there. However, when you're ready to end your lease and move out, you may be able to receive some, or all, of this deposit back.

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Do You Get a Security Deposit Back?

When you give your landlord a security deposit before moving into your rental unit, they're supposed to hold on to that money. Some states even require landlords to hold security deposit funds in a separate escrow account.

When you move out, the landlord can use your security deposit to repair any damages to the rental property you may have caused while living there. This doesn’t include things that would be considered normal wear and tear.

For example, if you lived in your apartment for 10 years, your landlord may not be able to use security deposit funds for painting, because this could be considered normal wear and tear. On the other hand, if you lived there for only one year and your small child wrote with markers all over the wall, the landlord may be able to use a portion of your security deposit to paint those walls.

Landlord-tenant laws are often managed at the state and local levels. So, it’s important to understand the specific regulations in your area.

Do These Things to Ensure You Get Your Entire Security Deposit Back?

As a tenant, you do have some responsibilities when it comes to moving out of your rental unit.

The first thing you can do to ensure you get your security deposit back is to treat your rental as if you owned it. Always be sure to report any damages or issues with the apartment to your landlord immediately. You should also keep notes on various repairs and issues you had while living there.

It’s also important to provide your landlord with proper notice that you’re moving out. Check the terms of your lease to determine what type of notice you should provide.

When you’re ready to move out, there’s a series of things you can do to ensure you get your entire security deposit back, including:

  • Remove all your belongings, trash and debris from your rental unit before the end of your lease. If you leave any property inside your rental unit, your landlord can charge you a removal fee.
  • Be sure to thoroughly clean your entire rental unit. This means every closet, cabinet and appliance. Some tenants hire a cleaning company to handle the move-out cleaning process for them. If you choose to do this, make sure you keep the receipt.
  • Take plenty of pictures when you move out. Make sure these pictures are properly date-stamped. These pictures can serve as evidence if you must go to small claims court.
  • Request a move-out inspection or final walkthrough of the apartment. Your landlord should walk through your rental unit with you and identify any issues with the apartment. When possible, take care of any noted issues before moving out.
  • Make sure you return the keys to your landlord on or before your last day.

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How Long Does a Landlord Have to Return a Security Deposit?

Most states have laws dictating how long a landlord can take to return a security deposit. Typically, this timeframe ranges from 14 to 60 days after you move out. In most cases, the landlord must return your full security deposit within this timeframe or provide you with a list of damages and how much the repairs were. If the cost of the repairs is lower than your security deposit, the landlord must return the remaining portion.

What to Do If Your Landlord Doesn’t Return Your Security Deposit

If your landlord fails to return your security deposit or you dispute the claims of damages, you can take action. Your first step is to contact your landlord to see if you can come to a mutual agreement. If this doesn’t work, you can file a small claims court case against your landlord. Make sure you take all your pictures, documentation, receipts, communications with your landlord and other evidence to court to prove your case.

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