The Ultimate Checklist for Getting Your Deposit Back

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Updated June 27, 2019
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When you rent an apartment, you are generally asked to put down a deposit to cover any damages, faults, etc. when you sign your lease. This is often the same amount as rent, or some amount that has been configured to cover such things. The deposit is intended to be returned upon lease-end, or when you move out, but sometimes that isn’t always the case. Here is the ultimate checklist to make sure you do indeed get that deposit back!

Read & Understand Your Lease

Before you rent an apartment, you’ll likely do a walk through, and meet the landlord. This is a great opportunity to ask about the security deposit. Sometimes landlords will even allow you to offer a deposit to hold the apartment, while your background check processes. Make sure you keep records of what was on the apartment listing, what the landlord asked for, and what (and when) you wrote the check for. When the time comes to sign a lease, compare this information to what is in the contract and make sure it matches. If it’s different, sort out with the landlord to either match the lease, or update the lease to what was agreed upon.

When reading the lease, make sure it is clearly stated what the deposit can or will be used for. If it’s to cover rent and damages, or one or the other. Also if there are any situations that would make your deposit obsolete. Lastly, do not confuse “first and last month’s rent” with rent plus a security deposit. This may not always be the case.

Pre and Post Move-In Inspections

When you move in, the landlord should meet with you and do an initial walk through,
making sure everything works, is free of stains, nicks, damages. They will record this
information, and make sure you ask for a copy for your records. It is also a good idea to
take your own photos at this time, ensuring you have a record of how the apartment was
at your move-in day. If the landlord does not offer to do a walk through with you at this time, but had you submit a security deposit, it’s in your best interest to make sure they do one with you.

A walk through should be done upon moving out as well. This is where you and your landlord go through and check for stains, nicks, and damages again. They will compare the condition to the initial walk through when you moved in, and this could be where pictures could come in handy if anything was damaged, or to showcase any normal wear and tear that was beyond your control.

Notify Your Landlord

When it comes time to move out you should give your landlord your notice on the time
agreed upon in the lease. This is generally a 30- 60 day notice, and could vary if your lease is month-to-month. If you can alert them early, even better! If they can have adequate time to find a new tenant, and show the apartment with your consent, that will put you in great standing with them.

Make Simple Repairs Yourself

To avoid having your full or partial security deposit used for simple repairs around the
unit, if you are able to, take care of some of them yourself for cheap!
If you were able to paint your unit, paint it back to it’s original color, or simple white. (unless agreed with the landlord it can stay).

Any holes made by hanging pictures, shelves, or curtain rods could easily be patched with a little putty and paint.
Replace lightbulbs, batteries, socket covers, tighten door and cabinet knobs. Anything that is simple wear and tear from everyday use can be easily fixed on your own.

Deep Clean Your Rental Unit

Outside of damages, full or partial security deposits are often used to cover extensive
cleaning done by the rental company or landlord. Taking care of all the deep cleaning yourself can save you this loss of your deposit. Dust ceiling fans, light fixtures, corners, vents or behind radiators. If you have carpet, get some carpet cleaner, or rent a carpet cleaner for tougher jobs. For hardwood floors, sweep thoroughly then mop to clean and polish the floors. Make sure you also clean out your storage spaces, and take EVERYTHING WITH YOU. Leaving your stuff behind does not leave you on good terms with your landlord.

Know Your State Rules & Laws

Each state has its own laws and stipulations when it comes to renting, and security
deposits. For example, in Minnesota there is no statutory limit for security deposits, but the deadline for returning a tenant’s security deposit is 3 weeks after the tenant leaves and the landlord receives a forwarding address. Five days if the tenant must leave due to the building being condemned. If you know and follow the laws as a tenant, you should be all set.

Follow Up with the Landlord

Make sure you stay in contact with your landlord after your departure. Make sure there
were no issues with the unit, and send them your forwarding address to receive your deposit. Make sure you know when they are sending your deposit and that it’s within the time restraints of your state. Also make sure they fully explain why they kept any or all of your deposit, and that it was on fair, legal terms.

Demand Letter

If you find yourself in a situation where a landlord fails or refuses to return any part of
your security deposit against any legitimate reason, or if it is not returned within the legal timeline of your contract or state law, you can send a demand letter. An official demand letter will give your landlord a chance to return your deposit, plus any applicable interest as deemed fit, before you have to take them to court. It should be sent via certified mail with a return receipt as proof. Failure to respond, or send the deposit in the appropriate amount can lead to you taking your landlord to small claims court if necessary.

If you follow these guidelines, adhere to the terms of your lease, and advocate for yourself as the renter, you should absolutely not have an issue with getting your required deposit back to you.

Download our Quick Reference Guide .pdf

The Ultimate Checklist for Getting Your Deposit Back

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