Getting your security deposit back at the end of a lease in a timely manner at the end of a lease can sometimes feel like an impossible feat. However, if there were no significant damages to the place you were renting, it doesn’t have to be. As a tenant, you have rights. If you follow these steps, you can put all the chances on your side to get your security deposit back quickly.
1. Study your contract before moving in
How to get your security deposit back starts before moving in. Your lease should indicate everything you need in order to get your security deposit refunded, including the steps you will have to follow before moving out (do you need to fill in any nail holes or clean the carpets for example). It should also mention how long your landlord can keep your security deposit after you move out.
Keep a copy of your contract in a safe place and don’t hesitate to refer to it any time you want to make an improvement.
2. Document every step
If any dispute arises between you and your landlord, documentation will be key. Taking the extra step to record everything might be a hassle, but it can save you a headache and a lot of money in the long run.
Start by doing a video recording or taking pictures of any damage during your moving-in inspection. If you notice anything amiss after moving in, email your landlord immediately and snap a picture.
Keep a record of any damages and repairs during the life of your lease and make sure that you have a written proof as “normal wear and tear” can sometimes be a subjective notion.
If you want to make any changes, even one that you might consider would improve the value of the rental like repainting the walls or changing an appliance, check with your landlord first.
3. Be aware of the tenant-landlord laws in your state
Laws vary from state to state, but your landlord is not allowed to keep your security deposit without a valid reason. Check your state’s attorney general website and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to see which ones apply to you.
Keeping any communication with your landlord by email or following a conversation by an email is a good way to avoid any misunderstanding and keep a written record should the need arise.
4. Plan your move-out carefully
Before moving out, check your lease to see how much notice you must give your landlord: most states require a 30 days’ notice and to send it by certified mail with return receipt requested.
Deep clean your apartment as best as you can and proceed to small repairs. It is always a good idea to be proactive by protecting the bottom of your furniture with felt pads and avoid hanging things with nails whenever you can for example. If you are on good terms with your landlord, it might be a good idea to have a preliminary meeting with him or her to inspect the unit and set up a check-list of repairs that might be necessary.
Before leaving the apartment, take detailed pictures to document the move-out condition of the place.
5. Follow up with your landlord
In most states, your landlord should return your security deposit within two to three weeks and provide an itemized list of what your deposit will be used for if applicable (cleaning, repairs, back rent…) if applicable by mail. Always make sure to provide your landlord with a forwarding address so he or she can get in touch with you and you can get your security deposit back in a timely manner.
It is easier and cheaper to negotiate directly with your landlord if there are any disputes. However, if reaching out fails, you might need to take it a step further and sue your landlord in Small Claims court.
6. If all else fail, sue in Small Claims court
Small Claim Court (sometimes also known as Justice of the Peace, Conciliation, Justice, City, or County court) concerns claims with a limit usually between $3,000 and $10,000 depending on the state. It requires a small fee of $10 to $50 to fill a claim and is an expedited process, not requiring a lawyer.
However, all the documentation you will have gathered will be instrumental in getting your security deposit back.