Dude, Where’s My Security Deposit?

in Legal Issues on by

When you move into an apartment, your landlord will ask for a deposit of some sort. All states allow landlords to legitimately ask for a security deposit to accompany the first month’s rent. A security deposit is money given to a landlord to provide protection against damage to the rented premises or for some other failure of a tenant.

There is no standard amount for a security deposit; it depends on the market, the landlord and your negotiation skills. One way to protect your security deposit is to avoid putting down a large one when you move in. According to an apartment industry insider, deposits can fluctuate greatly during different market periods. For example, if it’s a renters’ market, where there are many more empty apartments than there are renters, you can negotiate with a landlord to lower your security deposit, (which is possible, since they want you to begin paying rent as soon as possible.) When the rental market is tight, where there are more renters than empty apartments, landlords tend to increase the security deposit. The security deposit is not set in stone like one might assume.

Move-in day
Ensuring that you get your security deposit back at the end of your lease begins the day you move in. Since leases assume that your apartment was in perfect condition the day you take possession, any apparent damage at the end of your lease will be assumed your fault. If your apartment was not in perfect condition, you need proof that you apartment was damaged upon move-in. This can be anything from stained carpets and marks on the walls, to dirty ovens and freezers. To avoid this, you should follow the 3 L’s:


1. List of problems
Before you move everything into your new apartment, you should walk through it and make a list of any imperfection that you encounter. This list should include the date, where each problem was found, and if you’re feeling artistic, can include a map of the apartment with specific pinpoints of problem areas. Things you want to look for: broken window blinds, missing/torn screens, a functioning smoke detector, marks on wall or floors, stains on carpet, anything that appears broken or damaged by previous tenant. Making this list frees you from responsibility for pre-existing damages because it proves the problems were there before you moved in. Don’t forget to check appliances that are dirty or broken upon arrival, i.e. stove, microwave, oven, freezer, refrigerator (check behind the fridge!), and laundry machines. Gather evidence and protect yourself, take pictures with the date and time. Most apartment managers will willingly fix any problems you report, but keep in mind these pictures protect you from any blame for that stain on the carpet or often problems they can’t or won’t fix.

2. Lots of pictures
Capturing and storing pictures has never been so easy, thanks to digital cameras. You can pick up a basic camera for less than $100. This allows you to capture plenty of pictures of the problems you listed in the first step. Store a copy physically or online.

3. Letter through certified mail
If your apartment’s condition is bad enough that you may be liable for a large amount of money due to its condition, you could find yourself having to fix/pay for it when you move out, unless you protect yourself. There are hundreds of stories on ApartmentRatings.com from people who have has this exact problem. To guarantee that any notification you make to your landlord is actually received, it’s necessary to send it via certified mail. The letter must be signed for and this paper trail can be used if you find yourself needing to sue your landlord. This provides proof for your landlord was aware of problems.

12 Responses to “Dude, Where’s My Security Deposit?”

  1. November 30, 2005 at 10:33 am, Anonymous said:

    About #2 in the list, “Lots of Pictures,” [in the article “Dude, Where’s My Security Deposit?”]:

    Digital pictures are sometimes not usable for legal disputes, due to the ease of changing the image after the fact. If you want a record that may have to go to court, go with regular film, even if it’s a disposable camera.


  2. May 27, 2006 at 10:59 am, Guest said:

    I had planned to move into a house in the country. I put down a deposit of $950 (one months rent) Subsequently, I decided not to move in. The house has very old carpet that smells of cat urine. At first the owner was going to replace it, then he said he would not do that but have it professionally cleaned. The former tenant did not want to pay for that so she cleaned the place herself. I told the owner I did not want the house and he will not give me my deposit back.

    Do I deserve it and what should I do? Small claims? Isn’t that deposit for damages?

    Please HELP



    • January 31, 2017 at 8:52 pm, Kevino BRODER said:

      > get your security deposit back if you have to break every bone in his body. He's not a landlord, he's a thief.


  3. November 21, 2006 at 4:50 pm, Guest said:

    So, i have lived in my apt for 8 months, now i have moved, 300 dollars is gone from my security deposit to paint the apartment. They tell me that the walls were dirty and tar’y from me and me smoking, though i dont smoke. What do i do? i live in oregon and my manager says she doesnt have to provide me with pictures. Just because she says it needed paint does it? wouldnt this be considered normal wear and tear? if i sued could i get more back for the trouble i went through?


    • January 31, 2017 at 8:51 pm, Kevino BRODER said:

      > renting the apartment is considered normal maintenance as is replacing rugs that are worn out


  4. February 10, 2007 at 11:38 pm, Guest said:

    My roommate and I lived in an apartment for three consecutive years. We paid a non-refundable pet deposit of $200 as well as a security deposit of $40, which was to be held in a surety bond (state of FL). Sixty-five days after moving out we received a joint notice to my address (the same address I left as forwarding to the complex) that we owed $881.94 from an attorney hired by the apartment; this was the first notice of any kind received that there was an issue with the apartment and no detail describing what we are being charged for. I am aware that the apartment did not comply with FL statute 83.49(3) regarding notification to use our deposit and/or claim against our deposit. However, what are our rights with regard to the complex simply turning this over to an attorney without first alerting us (within a timely manner) that they believe there is some sort of damage to the apartment? BTW: the apartment was left clean and without damage.


  5. July 04, 2007 at 7:08 am, Guest said:

    # Qualified lawyers in your area.
    # Verification that each lawyer is in good standing.
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    Get Your Security Deposit Back

    Most states hold landlords to strict guidelines as to when and how to return security deposits. The general rule is that you are not responsible for normal wear and tear. If you cause damage by your unreasonable carelessness or deliberate misuse, however, you must pay for it. Landlords are typically required to return your security deposit, or give you an itemized accounting of the deductions from your security deposit, within 14 to 30 days after you move out.



  6. September 01, 2007 at 1:23 am, Guest said:

    my landlord said he spent my security deposit for his own entertainment, can i sue, and is this theft.


    • January 31, 2017 at 8:52 pm, Kevino BRODER said:

      > only if he doesn't return it when you leave


  7. June 19, 2008 at 7:11 pm, Guest said:

    Same problem here in Duval county Fl. My landlord answered an email I sent him, with a short story of his financial problems with refinancing his many properties falling through. He said he has “nothing” right now.
    I sent a note back saying “nothing” was unacceptible…
    He’s had over 4 months to return the deposit…
    No response, looks like small claims court~


  8. October 18, 2008 at 12:48 pm, Guest said:

    i lived in this apartment for 2 weeks they said they were mailing me my deposit back within a month its been 2 months now.


  9. November 09, 2008 at 9:54 pm, Guest said:

    My roomate left and dint give me any notice. He didnt even tell the landlady. I was screwed. 3 or 4 months after he left I mvoed out. I couldnt afford the rent. I felt like I was entitled to his deposit which he forfitted by leaving. to make a long story short shes been giving me shit, wasting my time and money to get her to sign an agreement which states she will only give me $350 of the $500 total deposit. We agreed on this in person and wouldnt sign it when i brought it back to her because she had a “headache.” about 10 minutes ago her brother called me saying she was scared because i slammed the front gate and not to go back to her house. i just want to know if im legally entitled to that money?


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