How to Get Back Your Security Deposit
With many apartments requiring a security deposit equal to one month’s rent or more, getting back your deposit is usually a major concern. For most renters, simply being proactive and keeping their apartment in shape will do the trick. However, other renters will find that an unscrupulous landlord wrongfully holds their entire deposit or overcharges for minor repairs. Below is what you can do to protect yourself in case you find yourself in the second category.
Keep Your Apartment in Good Condition
The most important thing you can do is to keep your apartment in good shape. The more work it needs when you move out, the worse it will look for you if you seek the return of all or part of your deposit. Never paint your walls or hang decorations without checking the landlord’s policies.
If you do damage something, immediately discuss a repair with your landlord — you’ll still have to cover the costs, but you’ll be on good terms with your landlord come move out time and there’s a good chance you’ll be able to get the work done cheaper than it would have been if you leave it until after you move out.
Follow the Landlord’s Move Out Procedures
All your work to keep your apartment in good shape does little good if you can’t prove that it was in good condition when you left it. Many apartments will ask you to do a walk through with a manager to check for any damage. Get a copy of the form they use for your own files. If you skip the walkthrough, you miss a chance to discuss any alleged damage and the landlord may claim you skipped it because of the damage you caused.
Whether or not your apartment manager does a walkthrough, take time-stamped photos showing the condition of your entire apartment immediately before returning your keys. Also, be sure to return the form requesting your forwarding address. It’s where your security deposit or notice of a claim against your security deposit will be sent.
Promptly Dispute Contested Charges
Your landlord is required to either return your security deposit or to give you notice that they’re applying your security deposit to repairs within a few weeks after you move out. If you wish to contest any charges, you will typically only have a few days or weeks to provide written notice. If you fail to give timely notice, you will forfeit any claim for a refund. For this reason, if you aren’t sure whether you want to bother contesting the charges or if you aren’t sure whether the amount of the charges was fair, you should send a letter contesting the charges anyway.
Send a Demand Letter and Follow Up
When to send a letter demanding the return of your security deposit depends on why the landlord is holding it. If they’ve sent a letter saying they’re holding it to cover damages, you need to demand the return of your deposit immediately. If they’ve simply withheld it without stating why it may be a good idea to wait until after the deadline for the landlord to make a claim against your deposit has passed. That way they won’t be able to say they’re withholding your deposit for damages when they receive your letter. Their only option at that point will be to return your deposit in full.
Usually, a single letter will be all that’s needed to secure the return of your deposit. If you don’t receive a response within two weeks, send a second letter informing the landlord that if your deposit isn’t returned within 10 days, you will be informing the state’s Attorney General and contacting your own attorney to file a lawsuit for the return of your security deposit. If they say they are withholding your deposit and you disagree with the amount to be withheld, follow the same procedure and also ask for documentation backing the charges.
If your landlord still refuses to return your deposit or ignores your letters, your only option for having the money returned will be to file a lawsuit against your landlord. You won’t be required to hire an attorney, but an attorney can be helpful to make sure you make the proper legal arguments — most security deposit disputes are resolved based on technicalities such as whether proper notice was given or whether the charges were for something the landlord was entitled to recover for as a matter of law.