9 Tips to Ensure You Get Every Penny of Your Security Deposit Back


Putting a security deposit down on an apartment is a required step in the renal process. Security deposit are used by landlords and property managers to pay for any damage to the unit once a renter vacates. While normal wear and tear is expected, any larger damage and repairs will be taken out of your security deposit after you move out. To ensure you get every last penny of your security deposit back, follow these steps.

1. Read your lease

Yes, as simple as it sounds, reading your lease is probably the biggest pointer we can give. Although leases can be fairly long, you need to take the time and read everything, even the fine print. Your lease will tell you what you’re responsible for, as well as the rules you must follow in order to be in good standing with your landlord.

Most of it should be pretty obvious—like making sure to leave the unit in good condition when you move out—but some leases have addendums that involve you painting the walls back to their original color, filling in nail holes, or even having the carpets cleaned. Once you’re aware of what you need to do, put a copy of the lease in a safe spot where you’ll be able to find it when the time comes to move out.

2. Reference your move-in condition form

When you move into any new apartment you will likely be given an inventory and condition form to complete. This form documents any existing damage to the unit when you take over occupancy. This is an essential step in the move-in process, but can also help you when it’s time to move-out and get your security deposit back. If there was already a crack in the ceiling or the blinds were broken, you will have documentation on hand if you are charged for anything that was preexisting. If your landlord or property manager does not provide you with an inspection checklist you can download one or create your own and send to your landlord for their records.

3. Request a move-out walk-through

Most landlords and property managers will schedule a walk-though of your unit prior to your move-out date to take note of any major repairs needed before they list the unit again. If they haven’t reached out to schedule a walk-through, take the initiative and ask for one. Ideally, this is done a week or two before your official move-out date. This will help clarify what needs to be fixed or cleaned before your last day in order for you to get your full security deposit back. Once you’re both on the same page, you’ll have a good idea of how much money you can expect to see in your security deposit refund letter.

4. Make any necessary repairs

Once you’ve identified any potential issues or damages during your walk-through, it’s time to get to work. Patch any holes left by hanging photos, and repair any broken handles or blinds. If you changed the paint color of your unit, be sure to paint it back to its original color.

5. Get cleaning

One of the most important things you can do to ensure you get your full security deposit back is to fully clean out your unit. Remember, no one wants to move into a new apartment that still looks lived in. If you really want your deposit back, take the time to give your old home a good cleaning before you leave. This can include removing stains in the carpets, scuffs on the walls, and cleaning the dirt off of the baseboards around your place. 

If you don’t have the time to do it yourself, hire someone to give your place a thorough cleaning. Having a professional cleaning company come in and make the place sparkle can help guarantee that you recoup your security amount. Plus, it saves your landlord from having to do it themselves or hire a cleaning service to do it last-minute, which could be expensive.

6. Don’t leave anything behind

Most landlords and property managers will deduct from your security deposit for any items left behind that they have to remove. This can even include items as small as silverware in your kitchen drawer. Be sure to check every closet and drawer to ensure that you have removed all of your belongings.

7. Take pictures after you move out

If you are renting with roommates, this is especially important. You might leave your room looking great, but your roommates might not have done the same. If you can’t move out at the same time as your roommates, take pictures of how you leave your room and send it to your landlord. That way, if they’re going to deduct money from your deposit, you might be able to get your fair share of the money back, regardless of your roommates’ cleaning job.

8. Return your keys and parking pass

This probably seems like a no-brainer, but remembering to drop off all keys and parking passes can save you money from your security deposit. If you fail to return a mail key or have lost your parking pass, the money could be deducted from your security deposit to replace the items. Schedule a time to meet with your landlord to drop off your keys or leave them in the unit if instructed to do so.

9. Leave a forwarding address

Although it would be nice if your landlord returned your deposit the same day you move out, that’s not usually how it works. They will likely want to do a run-through of your place to make sure it’s in good condition before cutting any checks.

After the inspection is complete, they can forward the check to you. But, they can’t mail your deposit back if they can’t find you. Make sure that you have provided an accurate address where you will be staying, or a permanent address (like your parents’) if you’re on the move or don’t have a new place yet.

What to do if your landlord withholds your security deposit

If your landlord or property manager is withholding your security deposit, it’s important that you know your rights and what actions you can legally take. Security deposits will usually be refunded within 30 days from your move out date, so if you find yourself without a refund, here are some steps to take.

Know your rights

Knowing your rights can help you if your landlord tries to hold onto your deposit illegally. A landlord is not allowed to hold onto your security payment without giving you a valid reason, but many renters often don’t realize this and let it slide, believing that they are somehow in the wrong.

Different states (and cities within those states) have unique laws that will impact not only whether or not your landlord can hold onto your deposit, but how much they can hold onto. In some cases, there are also deadlines to return security deposits. In California, for example, you can expect your security deposit to be returned to you, at the latest, 21 days after move-out. Do some research and make sure you know your rights.

Know the rules

Pay attention to what your lease says about how long you have to maintain residency before you move out. In some situations, if you break your lease and move out too soon, you may forfeit all rights to your security deposit. This can also be the instance if you have too many people living in your space. Leases will often clarify exactly how many people are allowed to reside in your unit, something which can be easy to forget when a significant other comes along. Follow the rules in your lease and you can expect to get most, if not all, of your security deposit back.

Take action

If your landlord is withholding your security deposit and you have proof that the unit was left in the condition outlined in your lease, you can begin the process of legal action. Always consult a legal professional before you start any legal process.

Getting your security deposit back shouldn’t cause you stress, as long as you’re aware of the rules and regulations before you move in. Find your next apartment on Zumper and make sure to read up on your new lease before signing. 

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