Making Sure You Get Your Security Deposit Back
Making Sure You Get Your Security Deposit Back
The most expensive aspect of renting a new apartment is coming up with the security deposit. Deposits can run upwards of $1,000 or much more depending on the rental’s particulars, so when the time comes to move, tenants often expect that the whole deposit is due back to them, but often this is not the case. A little foresight, however, can help you get the most back from your deposit.
Before You Move In
The time to make note of existing problems, damages or excessive wear is before you move in. Make sure you take the time to walk through the apartment with your landlord or management and note anything you see at that time. It is a good idea to take photos and make a list of what you find. Have your landlord sign the list agreeing that the condition of the property is you state on the list. That way, there are not any questions about what was your predecessor’s fault and what is yours.
While You Are Living There
Take care of any repairs right away. If you have leaks or drips, for example, report it your manager. Catching small problems early can help avoid big problems later. That seepage from the bathroom faucet might not bother you, but it could be causing the floor under the cabinet to rot, leading to the need for costly repairs after you move out.
Read the Fine Print
Tenants rarely read their lease unless they have a problem, but before you give notice, you should reread the lease to make sure you understand your responsibilities when you move out. If the wording on the lease is vague, call your landlord and ask what you need to do to prepare to exit the property. You do not want to assume you know, and then be surprised when you do not get your deposit back over a matter you could have taken care of. Many lease documents spell out what decorations are acceptable and what ones will cost you.
Make sure you know what the lease means by “normal wear and tear” and what is excessive. Typically, normal means that the walls, floor coverings and other surfaces show discoloration or fading. Expect matted carpeting in the walkways and, discolored or missing grout if you have lived there awhile.
Items you can expect to pay for:
Broken windows, broken or missing window coverings, large nail holes or too many small nail holes, large gouges, scratches on floors, doors and woodwork from you pet, flea, bedbug or other pest infestation caused by your pet or lack of cleanliness. If the apartment was furnished, plan to pay the cost to replace or repair missing or broken furniture and furnishings. Finally, expect an assessment for any keys (pool, laundry room, security gate) you fail to return.
When Is It Clean Enough?
Definitions of “clean” can differ from person to person, but there are general standards you can follow: appliances and fixtures should be free of debris, dirt and dust, soap scum and baked on foods; window coverings should be dusted or vacuumed and the insides of windows washed. Consider the next tenant: you should leave it as clean as it was when you moved in. Depending on the amount of deposit at stake and the time you have available, you might want to hire a professional cleaning service.
Before You Move Out
If you are uncertain what your landlord expects from you when you move out, you can request a pre-inspection. At a mutually agreeable time near the last two weeks of your tenancy, walk through the apartment with your landlord or manager and make a list of damages she expects you to repair before moving. Make sure that you are not purposely concealing damage behind or under your property. Each of you should sign the list. Make sure that the only items on the list are those that you are legally required to repair. If you disagree with your landlord as to what is your responsibility and what he considers normal wear and tear, contact your state’s office governing rental housing for clarification. In California, for example, that would be the California Department of Consumer Affairs. On their website you can find examples of what might be normal charges against a security deposit and what to do if your dispute charges.
After You Move Out
Just like when you moved in, again, make sure you have plenty of time to walk through the empty apartment with your landlord. Again, make sure your landlord sign’s off on the apartment’s condition, and lets you know of anything more requiring repair in order for you to get your deposit back.
Most leases specify the period that a landlord has to return the deposit or remaining portions, and should comply with the laws governing tenancy. A statute may have changed since you signed your lease, so check with your governing office if you have questions.
Some states require the landlord to provide itemized receipts, including copies of repair bills and invoices, for amounts held back from a security deposit. If you sign a waiver (either at the time of leasing, or before leaving), however, your landlord does not have to provide those to you. If the period to return a deposit is 21 days, as it is in California, and the landlord has not provided either your refund or the itemized list, and does not respond to your queries, you may want to contact a neutral party or mediator to assist you.