How to: Get Your Security Deposit Back in Full
Tenants and landlords everywhere run into security deposit refund disputes at some point. Everyone seems to have a different standard of cleanliness and set of expectations when it comes to move-out conditions. It’s best to not leave anything to opinion and to instead document the condition of the rental as much as possible to protect yourself as a tenant (or as a landlord).
In this guide I will provide you with tips to ensure that you receive as much of your security deposit back as possible after you move out of a rental property.
The process begins with your move-in and extends all the way until you receive your deposit back, after you move out.
At Move-In & During Your Tenancy
- Take photos and document the condition of your rental at move-in. Do not skip this step! You will kick yourself later for not taking the time to do this.
- Make sure they’re date and time stamped (if your phone does not do this for you, you can download a free date/time stamp app).
- Complete a move-in condition inspection report. Most property management companies will provide you with an electronic or paper inspection to complete. If they don’t, be sure to complete your own. (We recently started using RentCheck for property inspections, and they have a wonderful app and template. You can conduct your own inspection for free at getrentcheck.com.)
- Be sure to return your move-in condition report and photos to your property manager to retain on file. It’s best to email it so that you have a paper trail if worse comes to worst. Always turn your inspection in within the time frame allotted by your property manager. The longer you wait, the more responsible you become for deficiencies.
- Report any maintenance issues immediately to the property manager. If they are unaware of a problem, they can’t fix it. Any maintenance issues such as leaks or mold, and especially problems that can worsen over time, are best reported immediately to prevent future damage and to cover yourself so you aren’t held responsible for them when you move out.
During the Move Out Process
- When you prepare to move out, review your lease and any move-out paperwork that your landlord/property manager provides you. The general rule of thumb is that any cleaning and damages less normal wear and tear will be charged back to you.
- What is “normal wear and tear,” anyway? Normal wear and tear is the expected deterioration of a property over time, through routine (and proper!) use of the property. Check out this article from Mysmartmove.com for a more detailed explanation: https://www.mysmartmove.com/SmartMove/blog/landlord-guide-normal-wear-tear-in-rentals.page
- Review your lease/move out paperwork for expectations regarding cleaning. Generally, you are expected to return the rental in the condition in which you received it … and I hope you moved into a nice CLEAN rental! You will likely be expected to have the rental professionally cleaned and have any carpets cleaned as well. Depending on the landlord, you may also be asked to provide receipts of such cleaning. Again, documentation. Keep all of these things in a nice little folder on your computer or cloud storage space if you can.
- Is there any damage in your rental? If so, you’ll either need to get it restored to its original condition at move out, or be ready for a charge. Questions about holes in walls, etc.? Ask your property manager what to expect, and try to get their response in writing (text/email). Your property manager may already have a cost sheet prepared for common move-out charges.
- Schedule a move-out walkthrough with your landlord or property manager. At this point you’ll want to be fully moved out with all items removed and the rental having been cleaned. Ask if they anticipate any deductions based on what they see. This doesn’t HAVE to be done, because you’ll have your move out conditions documented anyway. Use your inspection app or your phone’s camera (date & time stamped of course). Keep these on hand in case any disputes arise.
- Be sure to move out in accordance with the property’s guidelines (do you need to schedule an elevator reservation or book a move out time?) and return keys to the correct location.
- Make sure you return ALL of your keys, parking permits, garage clickers and anything else the property manager states needs to be returned. Failure to return all keys and devices will result in charges. Leaving keys on the kitchen counter (unless specifically instructed to do so) does NOT constitute a move out.
- Do not leave any personal items or furniture in the rental. Removal of personal items comes at a charge, since the property manager will need to pay a vendor to do this for them. Furthermore, if you have furniture or larger items that you need to dispose of, never leave it on the curb or sitting around a dumpster. The city will cite property owners for this sort of thing which will likely be charged back to you. Call a service like Junk King or schedule a pickup with a local charitable organization instead.
- Provide an accurate forwarding address to your property manager, so that they can send your deposit back to the correct address on the first try.
- Ask your property manager when you can expect to receive your move out statement and refund. When you receive your move out statement and check, make sure any deductions are itemized with proof of the expense in the form of a receipt/invoice or estimate.
At this point you have completed your due diligence in facilitating a hopefully full and quick deposit refund. If you take anything away from this article, I hope that it is this: documentation is your friend! We always advocate for residents and owners to document their properties’ conditions and for communicating any issues to the appropriate parties. Happy Renting!