When you rent a place to live, you provide the landlord with a security deposit. And if you didn’t damage anything, you should get that money back. Your security deposit is that giant wad of cash (or nice-sized check) your landlord took from you when you moved in. Your landlord, or whoever manages the property, is supposed to hold the money until you move out.
1. Don’t Rent From Jerks
Unfortunately, some landlords and even some professional management companies will try to hold on to your security deposit unfairly. The best way to get your security deposit back is to entrust it to a good landlord in the first place. In most states, landlords must keep that money separate from other accounts so they can return the deposit to their tenants when they move out.
Once you’ve determined that you’re not renting from Mr. Worse Landlord, you need to start making a case for getting your security deposit back before you even move in. Ideally, your landlord will give you a property condition checklist, and the two of you will go around the property, filling it out together, and they each keep a copy. If your landlord doesn’t do this, make sure you do it yourself. You can create your own checklist, or most real estate or renters’ sites have ones you can download. In addition to the checklist, please take pictures of the entire property — even up close, detailed photos of fixtures like faucets, to document what they looked like when you moved in.
3. Stay On Top Of Things
Once you’ve documented the property’s condition before you moved in, you need to maintain it. That means not letting your cat use the dining room as the world’s biggest litter box, or your kids turn the hallway into a retrospective of their greasy handprints. Also, the carpet in the living room is not an ashtray. Don’t put your cigarettes out on it. Keeping on top of cleaning and minor repairs while you’re living in a place will make it easier to get your security deposit back when you move out.
4. Document (Again)
When it’s time to move out, do another walkthrough with the landlord or property manager using your original checklist and photos to review any damage that may have occurred under your watch. Be reasonable. A few nail holes count as wear and tear. The holes you punched in the walls do not. Do this walkthrough after all your stuff has been moved out so you can clearly see any issues, and so your landlord can’t come back later and say your Justin Bieber posters were covering a massive mold problem.
5. Lawyer Up
In most cases, you won’t have any trouble getting your security deposit back. However, in a few cases, you may need to bring in some really scary people: lawyers. Before it gets to that point, continue documenting everything, and know your rights. Remember how we told you to get the age of things like paint and carpet? If the landlord is going to charge you for carpet replacement, in many places, he or she can only charge you for part of the amount depending on the age of the carpet.