How to Get Your Security Deposit Back



Everyone who rents wants their full security deposit back when they move out. To begin the process, re-read the provisions of your agreement that deal with maintenance and repair obligations. It’s possible to have a “conditions” checklist, too. By looking over these documents, it will give you the starting point to determine what you are required to do to get your deposit back in full.

Records of repairs handled by maintenance can help as well. For example, if you tugged on the blinds a little too hard and they fell and caused damaged to the wall, be sure you keep the maintenance receipt of completion. Before-and-after photos would be beneficial. 

I. Steps to take to get your deposit back

1. Pay your outstanding bills

All overdue and outstanding bills should be paid in full before you vacate, or risk the balance coming out of your security deposit. In some situations, the balance may not even be entirely covered by the deposit, which means you will owe even more out of pocket.

2. Identify potential issues

Scan the entire apartment and note everything that could potentially raise concern by the landlord, such as holes in the drywall, dent in the fridge, scuffs on the floor, etc. Fix what you can yourself, because anything left in disrepair will be taken out of your deposit.

3. Give notice and schedule a walk-through

Give your landlord a written notice of your intent to move out. Schedule a walk-through of the residence with the community manager, and tell them where you’d like the security deposit sent.

4. Clean the entire residence

Most leases require the home to be left the way you found it, minus normal wear and tear. If the landlord needs to scrub the ring around the toilet or replace a cracked mirror, these cleaning/repair costs will likely come out of your security deposit.

Sample Cleaning List

Deep clean the kitchen and cabinets, both inside and out.

Spot clean carpet stains; otherwise, a thorough vacuuming may be enough

Clean in and behind appliances

Wash windows, blinds and community-owned drapes/curtains

Sweep and mop all floors

Dust all shelving

Squeegee tub and shower thoroughly

Wipe down window moldings, baseboards and walls.

5. Attend the walk-through

Be sure you attend the inspection with your landlord. That way, you can jot down anything that might need repairing. Consider bringing a camera with you to take photos of the areas with issues. The walk-through often takes place before moving out, which gives you the opportunity to explain to the landlord what you have been cleaning. 

Once the first walk-through is complete, schedule a second one. During the final inspection, discuss the amount that may be withheld if the repair isn't up to the landlord's standards. 

II. Your Legal Rights and Obligations (States Vary)

Because you already reviewed your lease, you may know some specifics but not all. Here’s some general knowledge about security deposits. For rights in your state, visit HUD.

Earned interest on your security deposit is a very real thing. Though, some states don’t require it.

You’re not responsible for normal wear and tear.

In general, the landlord can take from your deposit for the following:

  1. Repair costs for damage committed by you or a guest
  2. Cost of additional cleaning after move out
  3. Repair or replacing appliances if damage was caused by you or a guest
  4. Cost of moving abandoned furniture
  5. Any unpaid financial obligations, such as rent and late fees.

Any amounts assessed by the landlord against your deposit must be “reasonable.” If it escalates to a lawsuit, a mediator, arbitrator or judge will determine what is “reasonable.” As the tenant, you may challenge the amount that the landlord withheld.

III. Receiving Your Security Deposit

States vary in the amount of time required for a community to return the security deposit. Some require it to be delivered to the prior tenant within two weeks, some three weeks and some even more. Many states require the landlord to itemize what has been withheld from the deposit, and some don’t.

A state might even require the tenant to agree to the amount withheld, though this is uncommon.

If you and your landlord cannot come to an agreement, and you believe amounts have been wrongly taken from your deposit, or it has not been returned by the required time frame of your state, you can act to recover it. Your lease agreement may require mediation or arbitration to settle the issue. If it doesn’t specify mediation or arbitration, small claims court is the most economical option. Your local small claims court will have a website that tells you how to bring an action, and there are generally no filing fees. 

About the Author: Diana G. Cunningham received her J.D. from Syracuse University. Having practiced law for decades, Diana now spends her time writing about legal topics while living in the beautiful Finger Lakes of central New York.

*Disclaimer: This information is provided for general informational purposes only. Nothing contained herein should be construed as legal advice of any sort and is not intended for that purpose regarding any subject matter.

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