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Will You Get Your Rental Security Deposit Back?

Ah, the rental security deposit. When you rent an apartment or house [3], 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 [4], 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 [5])