Landlords will often ask for a security deposit when you first move into a rental space, whether it’s a house or an apartment. That security deposit is to help them with any unexpected expenses, such as a tenant causing damage to their property or defaulting on rent.
However, some landlords don’t follow (or even know) the law, so it’s important that you do if you want to get back your security deposit back fair and square.
Know Your Rights
The most important part of getting your security deposit back when you move out of a rented apartment or house is to know what your rights are as a tenant. Most states, and even provinces, hold landlords to strict guidelines that they must follow when it comes to security deposits. If they violate these laws, they could face large penalties. Do yourself a favor before you hand over a security deposit and research what those guidelines are for your state. However, most states have similar guidelines, so this guide should apply to people in most areas.
First of all, landlords usually can’t request a deposit that is larger than one month’s rent. So, if your monthly rent cost is $900, they cannot ask for more than that. (Though in many states, you might be expected to pay first month’s rent, a security deposit, and last month’s rent upfront before moving in.)
Your landlord will also have a deadline for when they have to mail out certain things after you move out. That deadline is typically two to three weeks, and will include the following: an itemized statement as to how the deposit was applied toward cleaning, repairs, or back rent; what’s left of the deposit; and possibly a list of proposed deductions before they’re made.
Finally, you should be aware of what your landlord is allowed to use your security deposit for. Landlords are not allowed to keep your security deposit for every day wear and tear such as worn carpets, chipped paint, or worn finish on hardwood. They can, however, deduct costs of fixing damaged property, such as writing on walls, broken windows, holes in walls, or left-behind furniture or trash. You should always let your landlord know of any damage to the property as soon as it happens.
A lot of people don’t give their security deposit much thought after they’ve handed it over—until they move and want it back. But, you really should plan ahead if you want to get it back, and get it back in full.
As well as knowing your rights as a tenant when it comes to security deposit, you should know what kind of notice you have to give when you are moving. Most landlords require a 30-day written notice. If the period of time is shorter than that, they may be legally allowed to keep your deposit.
If you plan on moving out before your lease is up, you won’t get your security deposit back and could end up having to pay rent until the end of your lease. However, you might be able to find someone to sub-lease your unit, saving you your deposit and a lot of hassle.
You should always get your rental unit in good shape before you move out. Make sure you don’t leave any heavy pieces of furniture behind, garbage piled up, or dirt laying around. You should leave the place spotless when you move. Of course, it’s also a good idea to confirm your cleaning plans with your landlord, so you don’t end up doing more than required.
When the landlord does his or her final property inspection, make sure you ask to be there so that you can fix any problems or do more cleaning if required.
It also helps to document any damages that have happened over your time there, whether or not you alerted your landlord or building’s superintendent, and make sure to take photos and videos. Take photos and videos of the place before you leave, so you have proof that you left it in good condition.
At last, make sure you give your landlord your forwarding address so that they are able to locate you in order to give your security deposit back to you.
Unfortunately, even after you feel you did everything right, some landlords don’t. For example, you may not agree with their deductions, or you may not have received an itemization, or your landlord may have broken security deposit laws in some way. If this happens, you should follow up with him or her and try to work it out.
If you can’t seem to come to an agreement, you should write your landlord a demand letter requesting that your security deposit is be returned. Always keep a photo copy for your own records. In your letter, you should lay out the reasons you feel your landlord owes you, include copies of any relevant letters and agreements, remind him or her of state security deposit laws that apply, and let him or her know that you will sue in small claims court if necessary.
Sue if Necessary
If you do not hear back from your landlord after a certain amount of time or you are unhappy with the response you receive, you can file a lawsuit in small claims court. Small claims court is for everyday people, and they will have any forms and information you need to pursue your lawsuit.
Make sure you sue for the amount of the security deposit, if not more. You can sue for extra punitive damages if your landlord did not follow the law. The cost of filing a small claim is often between $10 to $50. Once in trial, it should only last about 15 minutes, allowing each side to present their versions of what happened.