It never fails: No matter how much you save on movers or how affordable the rent is at your new place, there are always unexpected costs when you move from one place to another.

Perhaps you’ll have to shell out a little extra for a utility deposit. Maybe you’ll need to buy some new appliances or furniture. Whenever these financial surprises happen, learning how to get your security deposit back from your old place can really come in handy.

Getting your full security deposit back can be a challenge, however. While many landlords are great, some will nickel and dime you. Others will be downright dishonest. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead and protect yourself.

Here are some tips on how to get your security deposit back:

Before You Move In

  • Do some research to make sure you’re not walking into a bad situation. Google the leasing company or landlord. Check with the Better Business Bureau, too. If there are any red flags, walk away.
  • Know the law in your state. A landlord can’t just keep your security deposit without an explanation. Landlords typically have to settle up with you within a specific number of days, and, in some states, they have to pay you interest on your deposit. Click here to brush up on your local rules, limits, and deadlines for getting your deposit back.
  • Before you sign a lease, read it carefully so you know exactly what the terms are. Make sure that you are clear on what constitutes normal wear and tear, and what the policies are concerning guests, pets, and making cosmetic changes or improvements. Know what the penalties are for damages, as well as how much notice you need to give before moving out. Ask questions if you are unsure about anything.
  • Do a walk-through with your landlord. It’s important that both you and your landlord are in complete agreement about the condition of your new place, and most landlords will have some sort of checklist to record the condition of the home before you move in. Fill it out completely with your landlord present, and ask for a copy. Inspect the entire premises and record any dirt, damage, or problems that you see—no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Take pictures and/or video, too is a great tip for how to get your security deposit back.

After You Move In

  • Honor your lease. At this point, there should be no questions about the terms of your lease. It clearly outlines what is—and isn’t—allowed, and you agreed to those terms when you signed the lease. So stick to them. If you don’t, you run the risk of forfeiting some or all of your security deposit.
  • You don’t want to give your landlord a reason to hassle you or nitpick when it comes time to refund you your money, so be friendly to him or her whenever you see each other.
  • Keep the property in good condition. While you don’t own your new place, pretend you do. Keep it clean, maintain the lawn (if required), and do your best to not stain, soil, or damage anything.
  • Life happens, and if something happens to break, be sure to report any damages immediately. If a pipe bursts or an appliance stops working, it’s not your job to fix it. It’s your landlord’s. While some things don’t need to be fixed right away, others need to be addressed immediately—not just because they make things inconvenient for you, but because they could lead to bigger, more costly issues for the property owner.
  • Always ask permission before making changes. Most landlords don’t mind if you want to paint your new place a new color or install new blinds or curtains. They just ask that you let them know beforehand. Sometimes, they’ll even reimburse you for the materials or labor or both. After all, you are making an improvement to their property.
  • Document everything. Whether you are making changes, reporting damages, or responding to any communications from your landlord, be sure to keep complete and accurate records, including photos and video (if applicable). Doing so will protect you should your landlord accuse you of violating any conditions of your lease when it’s time to move out.
  • Make sure you give enough notice before moving out. As soon as you start looking for another place, review your lease (and double-check with your landlord) to make sure you know how much notice you need to provide. In many cases, failing to do so can cause you to forfeit your deposit entirely.

When You Move Out

  • Clean your place thoroughly. Leaving behind a dirty apartment or house can, at the very least, cause your landlord to deduct cleaning costs from your security deposit or, in other cases, cause you to lose it entirely. Leave your place as neat and clean as you found it, if not more. Don’t overlook things like replacing any dirty toilet seats, scrubbing the oven, and cleaning under and behind the refrigerator.
  • Make small repairs. While your landlord should have taken care of any big problems at this point, doing things like replacing light bulbs, puttying nail holes, and clearing clogged drains can help you avoid any deductions from your deposit. Use a Magic Eraser to remove any marks on the walls, or consider applying a layer of paint to cover any bigger problem areas.
  • Conduct a mock inspection with your family or friends. Remember the inspection you conducted with your landlord when you first moved in? Recreate it. Grab the checklist you filled out the first time, and ask a friend or family member to help you assess the condition of your place. If anything needs to be fixed or cleaned, fix or clean it before your landlord conducts the final inspection.
  • Meet with your landlord and review the checklist one more time. Ask if you will be charged for anything and if the answer is yes, offer to take care of any cleaning or repairs. If your landlord doesn’t find anything wrong, ask him or her when you can expect to get your security deposit back.

If your landlord won’t return your deposit, ask for a list of itemized deductions and try come to some sort of agreement. If your landlord refuses to work with you—and you feel like he or she is not honoring your lease or violating the law—consider consulting an attorney and/or pursuing a case in small claims court.

 

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