Personal Finance 

Will You Get Your Rental Security Deposit Back?

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New ApartmentsAh, the rental security deposit. When you rent an apartment or house, you usually have to plunk down a security deposit — just in case you skip out, or if there is major cleaning to be done, or damaged to be fixed. If you aren’t careful, you could lose your security deposit to an unscrupulous landlord or apartment manager.

When you move into an apartment, find out what the security deposit policy is, and ask what you need to do to get your deposit back. Then, make sure you take the proper steps that ensure you meet the requirements.

Standard Cleaning Fees

Some landlords will charge you cleaning fees, and take the amount from the security deposit. In the first apartment my husband and I lived in after we married, the management was clear that $20 would be deducted from our security deposit for carpet shampooing — regardless of any other consideration. Right then, we knew that we wouldn’t get the full deposit back. That is a fairly common practice in Utah.

When we moved to New York, though, the story was different. We were given a list of the cost to clean specific items in the townhouse; as long as we cleaned everything, we would receive the entire security deposit back. We paid attention to the list, and when we moved out we got the whole security deposit.

Check-In and Check-Out

We learned the hard way the importance of having management check you in and check you out of your rental. Our Utah rental had damage when we moved in. The managers didn’t walk through with us, but I amended the agreement, noting the hole in one of the bedroom doors and the broken blinds, before signing. We later discovered that the managers were friends with the former tenants, and hadn’t reported the damage against them. Only my notes on the agreement prevented us having to cover the cost of repairing the damage.

These managers didn’t check us out, either. They simply told us to leave the keys. We left the apartment cleaner than we found it, even scrubbing the kitchen floor on hands and knees. We left the keys and a couple weeks later the landlord called and told us that not only was he keeping the security deposit, but he was also charging us extra. The managers claimed that they spent 10 hours cleaning the apartment and billed the landlord for the time. Since we didn’t have anyone to sign off on our check-out, the best we could do was angrily share our side of the story. The landlord agreed to call it “even.”

In New York, though, the on-site manager walked through the apartment with us before we moved in, and before we moved out. He checked everything off the list, and then gave us a signed receipt indicating that we qualified for the entire security deposit to be returned. This contrast taught us to insist on walk-throughs with management, and information, in writing, about our status.

Bottom Line

If you take care of the apartment, and pay your rent on time, you will probably get all or most of your security deposit back. But you have to be vigilant. Before you move in, make a note of damage and cleanliness, and before you move out, make sure that someone walks through with you to determine how much of your security deposit you are eligible for.

(Photo: Rubber Dragon)

{ 12 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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12 Responses to “Will You Get Your Rental Security Deposit Back?”

  1. Steve says:

    Question regarding Security Deposit: Pet and hardwood floors

    My wife and I are renting our current townhouse and received permission from our landlord to adopt a dog. He didn’t require a pet security deposit, and there is nothing in our rent about requiring carpets (but we put some down anyway).

    That being said, our dog tends to dent (but not really scratch) the floor with his nails, even though we keep them trimmed. I’ve heard its due to the high PSI pressure put down when he walks. You can notice pitting in high traffic areas that we couldn’t completely cover with carpet.

    We aren’t sure if we are going to get our security deposit back – our landlord has pets of his own, but we aren’t sure if he expected some damage or not.

    Anyone else have a similar situation?

  2. partee875 says:

    I took pictures before and after my move with one apartment. I KNEW they would take a lot of money because they were terrible landlords and we had to call the health department on them earlier that year. We did everything they said needed to be done and then they took practically all our deposit citing things I knew was not our responsibility (dust on the 30 foot ceiling fan) and large stains (which weren’t in any of the pictures I took).

    I sued and they settled immediately because they knew they had no claim. Just a quick search on yelp for the company showed that it’s the students that tend to not get their deposits back because they are not likely to take action. I did, and it was time well spent for the money I got back. Small claims court is much easier than you think, and most are settled before court.

  3. freeby50 says:

    The advice given is fine. It is smart to make sure you understand the terms of the deposit and record the state of the property during move in & move out.

    The vast majority of the time landlords treat tenants fairly and return the security deposit that is due. Yes there are bad landlords out there. But its not accurate nor fair to generalize about all landlords. I’m a landlord and I’ve never been unfair about returning a deposit. I have however seen many tenants claim they cleaned a place that they left dirty then get upset when they don’t get a full refund. This isn’t just a one way street theres plenty of tenants that damage property leave it dirty then expect a 100% refund for no good reason.

  4. freeby50 says:

    Steve, If your dog damages the floors then you’re liable for that damage. Is that your question? Of course it depends on how bad the damage is but yes, you could be liable of course. You can’t be charged for normal wear and tear. If the damage is really no different than normal ‘wear and tear’ then you’re fine. But normal wear and tear isn’t really defined specifically anywhere as far as I know. It really depends on how bad it is. I’d say it also matters what condition the floors were in when you moved in. If they are old nad already pretty worn then you may not be liable. If the floors were nearing end of useful life then they can’t really charge you for damaging them. You’re not liable for wear and tear. So damaging something already damaged isn’t something they can charge you for. But if the floors were virtually new and you have ruined them then you may be liable for nearly complete replacement cost.

  5. Alexis says:

    Luckily I only rent from my sister (I rent a room out of her house) and didn’t pay a deposit. I do know that I will be responsible for any damages though.

  6. bloodbath says:

    I am a landlord and I have never returned the deposit. I have a move-in/move-out walk through list but most tenants do not return the apartment in the state they received it. Usually the walls, doorknobs and toilets have to be repair. The stove and fridge are a total mess and the floors need to be refinished and carpet replaced – all of which costs more than the deposit. In one instance the tenant destroyed the stove and it had to be replaced and another tenant broke 8 out of 10 doors and frames. One tenant who’s leaving in 4 months also will not get his deposit because he broke the plumbing twice costing over $600 in repairs, plus his two pitbulls are destroying the wood floors.

  7. Ben says:

    I remember a move-out walk through with a property manager where she walked through the spotless apartment not checking anything. she headed straight for the kitchen, opened the oven and practically stood on her head to examine the interior top of the oven! Disappointed finding no mess she checked other things with the same result. Finally she agreed it was clean but said, “You’re still not getting money back because you were late on the rent once and never paid the late fees!”
    I was 19 years old and it was my first experience with a rental.

  8. admiral58 says:

    I have gotten my security deposit back every time I leave. But you have to be smart when you move in and out. Document everything, even with pictures.

  9. Barb says:

    I have a friend that doesn’t pay the last month’s rent. Since the security deposit is usually one month’s rent, he never expects to get the deposit back. It takes the landlord usually 30 days to kick someone out anyways.
    He isn’t a bad guy and doesn’t damage items, but some of his places that he has stayed in have been interesting.

  10. Barb says:

    I do have a friend that doesn’t pay the last month’s rent. Since the security deposit is usually one month’s rent, he never expects to get the deposit back. It takes the landlord usually 30 days to kick someone out anyways.
    He isn’t a bad guy and doesn’t damage items, but some of his places that he has stayed in have been interesting.

  11. bubbles says:

    I have lived in San Francisco since 1987 and have NEVER gotten a deposit back!
    It’s only been five moves, but there not been a single instance, whether it’s a landlord or an agency, it seems like a lost cause.
    I think that *next* time I will simply not pay the last month’s rent.

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