When you rent an apartment, you often have to put down a security deposit — in many cases, a month’s rent — with the understanding that it may be refunded to you when you move out. But, will you ever see that money again? There are several reasons your landlord can hang on to your security deposit, so it’s a good idea to understand these circumstances to improve your chances of getting your deposit back.
The specifics of regulations outlining renters’ rights and landlords’ responsibilities vary by state, but a common hot spot for disputes can occur whenever a tenant’s partial or entire security deposit is withheld. For example, the California Department of Consumer Affairs lists the refunding security deposits as the No. 1 source of disagreements between tenants and landlords.
Considering that California and New York, ranked first and second respectively for total number of apartments by the National Multi Housing Council, each have more than 2 million rental units, it’s important for all tenants to understand what’s involved in protecting a security deposit while renting.
While you might be excited about moving and settling into a new place, take the time to familiarize yourself with your own lease agreement, because it will likely detail the ways in which you may lose some or all of your security deposit. Common situations that can affect security deposits include:
Though many landlords supply and fill out a property checklist to review the status of an apartment before a new tenant moves in, some do not. And in situations when renters can’t prove that damage already existed before they moved in, the repair costs can be deducted from their security deposits. Fortunately, this situation can be avoided. Simply talk with your landlord about creating your own checklist or use one from your local tenants association. Be sure it’s signed and dated by both you and your landlord. Though it isn’t required, it’s advisable to take photos of the property’s condition, especially any existing damage, such as cracked windows, stains or torn carpets.
Closely following the terms of your rental agreement is one way to help protect your security deposit. And, though many choose to rent precisely for the freedoms it allows, failure to give proper written notice before moving out can result in your landlord deducting rent from your deposit. While most states require 30 days’ written notice of a tenant’s decision to end a lease, make sure to consult your lease agreement for your specific obligations. Of course, if your term isn’t up yet and you want to move, you’ll have to speak to your landlord and consult the fine print in your rental contract to see what your subletting options are (if permitted), or you could be held responsible for the rent throughout the remainder of your lease, whether you’re still living there or not.
Most rental units come with, at the bare minimum, a key to the door. Some have multiple keys, other have remote controls for garages, and yet others come equipped with appliances. It’s important to understand that any item you receive as a part of your rental belongs to the property owner and should be returned when you vacate the unit. If you decide to take that washing machine with you or forget to return your keys, you may be liable for replacement costs, which could be deducted from your deposit.
We’re all busy, and never more so than on moving day. But even if the moving truck’s loaded and you’re eager to hit the road, consider requesting a final walk-through of the rental unit. The walk-through is intended to determine that the unit is left in the same state as it was first rented out—allowing for regular wear and tear. This means that it’s clean; empty of your belongings; and all rental property is present and in good shape. If you’re not present at your walk-through, you may run the risk of being held accountable for things you don’t agree with.
Depending on the state, landlords usually have between 30 and 60 days to return those funds, so make sure to consult your specific lease agreement with regard to your situation. In most cases, this will be done by mail. Make sure that you leave a forwarding address with your landlord; if you don’t, he won’t know where to send your check!
With the costs of a moving truck, packing materials and a myriad of items to purchase for your new place, moving is an expensive life change. And for most of us, our previous security deposit is a valuable savings fund to help ease this transition. Following the above tips can help increase your chances of receiving a check in the mail for the amount you’re owed.