If you’ve ever rented from an apartment or home then you probably know two words very well: security deposit. And, if you’re like the vast majority of renters, you probably want it back.
But what is a security deposit, exactly? It’s basically money you let your landlord hold onto just in case there’s damage to the place when you move out. This is not to be confused with “last month’s rent,” which is literally the renter paying for his or her last month in advance. A security deposit is like an insurance policy for your landlord. It protects your landlord in case you decide to trash the place on your way out or for unintentional damage and loss.
But what if you don’t mess things up? If you’re a conscientious renter then getting your security deposit back should be simple, right? Well, no.
There are some tips for getting your full security deposit back.
Document everything: The most crucial thing you can do is document. Do you have a camera? Yes, of course you do. This isn’t 1990. Before you move in, take photos. Burn a CD of photos and clearly label the disc with the date so that you have physical evidence in case you need it. Give a copy to your landlord and keep one for yourself. Do the same thing the day you move out. Document every single flaw you can find, no matter how minor. Remember that what was a tiny crack in the kitchen ceiling when you moved in might become much larger by the time you’re ready to move out.
Read your lease. This might seen obvious, but you’d be surprised. In these times of zillion word user agreements for everything from iTunes to Twitter, we’re used to just clicking “agree” without a second thought. Don’t make the same mistake with this important document. If there’s anything you don’t understand or are concerned about, ask. If your landlord doesn’t or can’t give you a satisfactory answer, find someone who can.
Get it in writing. If your landlord gives you permission to modify your home in any way, get it in writing, especially if it’s not something expressly allowed by your lease. Does your lease say no pets but your landlord says she’ll make an exception for your cat? Did your landlord give you the thumbs up to paint the walls? Even if your landlord is your mom’s best friend, a verbal okay is an invitation for future headaches.
Clean it up. Roll up your sleeves and get scrubbing. Do a deep clean of appliances. Sweep, mop, vacuum. Fill in any nail holes, repair anything that might have gotten loose or wobbly due to normal wear and tear. The cleaner you leave your place, the more likely your landlord will be to give you your deposit back in full.
Know your rights. Laws pertaining to landlords and tenants vary from state to state. Knowing your state’s laws is important, but don’t assume that all laws are the same if you’re relocating to a different state.