Six Ways to Make Sure You Get Back Your Security Deposit

Your security deposit: how to get it back"I was told by the previous tenant before I moved in that my landlord never gave back the security deposit, so I should just plan for that," says Bea Lowey of Medford, Mass. "But I really didn't want to lose all of that money for no reason."

Surprisingly, more people than you would think are willing to forgo the security deposit they're entitled to, under the preconceived idea that their landlord just won't give it back. Lowey, on the other hand, chose not to listen and made sure she took extra good care of her place. "I also took pictures of the before and after, so that I had proof in the event he tried to hold on to my security deposit," she adds.

Ultimately Lowey got back her deposit, and you can too. Just follow these six simple steps.


1. Read the fine print: The best way to start following the rules is to know what they are. Read your lease or rental agreement carefully. That way, when your landlord tells you that the cheetah-print wallpaper you put on the ceiling will cost him most of your security deposit to remove and repaint, it won't come as a surprise.

2. Learn the law: Check out what your state deems suitable use for your security deposit and how soon you must get it back; also, what kind of statement the landlord must provide in the event of a dispute. In some cases, if your landlord misses the deadline, you're entitled to return of the entire security deposit -- despite the holes that you drilled in the bathroom wall to hang your glass shelves.

Real Estate Essential How-To-Guides on AOL Real Estate: Home Buying, Selling, Renting, Moving and Home Improvement 3. Photograph the evidence: No one rents a car without walking around looking for dents, why would you rent an apartment without doing the same thing? Before you move in, walk through the apartment and take pictures of any obvious marks or imperfections. Do the same thing when you move out. That way, if your landlord tries to withhold any of your security deposit for something you did not do, you have ample proof.

4. Leave the place in good working order: Since security deposits can pretty much be used only for repairs that go above and beyond general wear and tear, do yourself a favor and don't go above and beyond! If you do, try to fix the damage yourself before you move out, or ask a friend to help you. Things like drill marks are easily spackled and repainted, and light-color paint jobs can similarly be covered with white paint. (Don't say you weren't warned about that lipstick-red accent wall before you painted it.)

5. Clean, clean, clean: If you have hairy pets or children who like to draw on walls, you might consider hiring a one-time cleaning service before you move out. Your landlord would likely do this anyway and subtract it from your deposit. But if you choose the service yourself, you might save a little money. Otherwise, give yourself a day or two to roll up your sleeves and scrub little Sally's Monet-inspired masterpiece off the bedroom wall.

6. Give your landlord a forwarding address: It sounds obvious, but when you are in the middle of moving, sometimes remembering to mention that you can be reached at your sister's in Nevada will slip your mind. So, get your forwarding info to your landlord as soon as you know what it will be, so that he or she can reach you and return your security deposit.

Legally, your landlord must refund your security deposit. Dingy paint, scuffed hardwood and other everyday wear and tear should not keep it from you. "If you know it, and your landlord knows you know it," says Lowey, "he'll definitely give you your deposit back."


Looking for more advice about renting? Here are some AOL Real Estate guides to help you:

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