Getting your security deposit back from your landlord after you move may feel like an impossible feat, but it isn’t. Remember that your security deposit is essentially your money, so not all hope is lost when it’s time to move out.
“It’s the landlord’s obligation to return [the deposit] at the end of the lease,” says Abbie Philpott with move-out company Pleased to Clean You.
Here’s some expert advice for making sure your security deposit money goes back into your wallet – where it belongs.
Start planning when you move in
Taking precautions when you move in saves you time (and money) when you’re ready to move out. Use removable poster putty and removable hooks to avoid getting charged for holes in the wall later, and felt pads to protect wood floors from scratches.
You know all of those rental-related documents you received when you moved in? Olivia Joyce with end-of-tenancy cleaning company Move Out Mates suggests reading them thoroughly and keeping all of them in one place. “Find out the proper procedures to end your rental agreement, and comply with them,” she says.
Unfortunately, “fair wear and tear” is subjective.
“I’ve seen cases in which landlords stretch this phrase to the limit,” Philpott says. She urges tenants to photograph everything in the rental property to serve as proof of the property’s condition.
While photo documentation is great, sometimes it’s not enough. “Take a video walkthrough of the unit when you first move in, and again when you move out,” suggest John and Melissa Steele with Team Steele San Diego Homes.
If the property manager tries to keep your deposit, your video will serve as proof that you kept the rental in quality condition. “It makes it very hard for them to argue with you,” the Steeles add. “It has helped us save a few hundred dollars, and only takes a few minutes,”
Further, keep a record of each time you contacted your property manager to report maintenance issues. And whenever reporting maintenance requests, do so via email or through a reporting system that sends you a confirmation; this serves as better proof for your record-keeping than any phone call.
Contact your landlord
Confirm with the property manager how far in advance you need to alert them about your move-out date. While your rental agreement may already note this, a quick conversation serves as both a helpful confirmation and a courtesy to your landlord.
In addition to the standard vacuuming and dusting, plan to do a serious deep clean if you want all of your deposit money back.
“This means behind and beneath appliances, plus details like light switches, door frames, and more,” says Joyce.
And don’t forget to confirm whether your rental property is required to be professionally cleaned – then keep your service receipt for your landlord as proof.
Move out on the same day as your roommates
If possible, coordinate a move-out day with your roommates.
“You don’t want to leave it up to your roommate to make sure the apartment is perfectly cleaned and ready for the next tenant,” says Seth Wanta, Chicago resident. “You also don’t want your roommates to move out before you, leaving any junk for you to clean up. Make it a team effort!”
Do a mock inspection with friends
Invite some trusted friends over and go through your move-out checklist together. You may be surprised by how many things you would have missed if you went through your checklist solo.
Joyce suggests marking every damage or deterioration because some of them are the landlord’s responsibility, while others should be deducted from your deposit.
Once you know who’s responsible for what, you can fix any issue that occurred during your occupancy.
Have your landlord do a mock inspection
Ask your landlord to do an unofficial inspection before your move-out date. This not only helps you assess what needs fixing, but also allows both of you to get on the same page about what needs additional cleaning or repairs.
Give yourself a few days between this inspection and your move-out day so you have time to correct anything your landlord may be unhappy with.
Do necessary repairs
Small repairs like replacing light bulbs, filling nail holes, and unclogging drains are small things that make a big difference. “They will take you no more than an hour to complete, but they will raise the general condition of the property,” says Lauren Haynes, a supervisor with Star Domestic Cleaners. “The landlord will definitely appreciate the work done and will be less likely to claim deductions from the deposit.”
Additionally, Kristen Chuber with Paintzen advises painting a coat of the original paint color on any walls with scuffs or holes. Chuber suggests either going a DIY route for around $50 or hiring a service and asking for cheaper “whiteboxing” rates.
“Depending on the condition of your walls, this could be more cost effective than losing that money out of your deposit, especially if your rental is small,” she says.
And if you don’t have the funds for either option? “The next best thing I’ve seen is the Magic Eraser,” Chuber adds. “It’s been my BFF when it comes to getting rid of scuffs and marks.”
Research local laws
It’s illegal in most states for a landlord to keep your security deposit without explanation, so research renter’s rights related to security deposits at the city, county, and state level.
Good starting points for this information are the websites of your state’s attorney general and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. While your property manager should already be aware of these regulations, you should, too. Landlord-tenant laws exist to help you, but be your own advocate.
Finally, while following these 10 suggestions will certainly go a long way, so does being nice. Patience and politeness are memorable qualities, especially if you live in a large apartment complex where plenty of other residents are moving out around the same time as you.
If thinking about the process of getting your security deposit back is daunting, rest assured that it doesn’t have to be. With some planning and clear, considerate communication, you’re well on your way to getting your hard-earned deposit money back into your hands.