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.
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.