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Move-in Fees vs. Security Deposits: What's the Difference?

Looking for a new apartment is an exciting time. Whether it's your very first apartment or you're relocating to a new area, there are many things to consider. In your apartment searches, you'll see that most landlords will ask for a security deposit, and some of them may request other types of fees.

Security Deposit

A deposit of some kind is involved in most rental agreements. Landlords may ask for different types of deposits, such as a security deposit, a pet deposit and even first and/or last month's rent. However, there is another charge in the housing world that has been growing in popularity: the move-in fee. What's the difference between a move-in fee and a security deposit? Here are some of the basics:

Security Deposits

A security deposit is a sum of money collected by the landlord from the tenant. It is paid in advance in order to protect the landlord from the possibility of destructive or negligent tenants. If the rental property is not damaged during the duration of the tenant's stay, the tenant is entitled to get this deposit amount back. Allowances are usually made for normal wear and tear on the property. A portion of the deposit may be deducted and kept by the landlord, depending upon the degree of damage to the property.

Move-In Fees

A move-in fee is different from a deposit in that it is by nature not refundable. In this way, it is unlike a security deposit because the tenant won't get the money back. Some apartments and condo associations charge a move-in fee as a way of covering the cost of the various changes that are made between residents. These can include reprogramming buzzers, updating mailboxes and changing directories. Generally, the charge is for services the landlord will be providing for the tenant to prepare the residence for move-in.

Move-in fees are a fairly recent development and tend to garner mixed reviews. Some people see them as a scam at worst and a clever gimmick at best. Some landlords may reduce the amount of the security deposit dramatically, but instead charge a non-refundable move-in fee. In this way, the landlord is guaranteed extra income without the hassle of keeping track of damages and deductions to the security deposit down the road. Computerized credit reporting may have contributed to this trend, as apartment management companies now know they can report tenants for failing to pay rent and other offenses.

Clearly, a move-in fee is quite different from a security deposit. Some people see them as controversial, while other tenants appreciate a lower amount at move-in if the fee is in lieu of a high security deposit. Either way, tenants should realize that sometimes there is a bit of latitude and flexibility in rental scenarios; it's worth your effort to try negotiating the amount of pre-paid rent, fees and deposits with the landlord. Tenants also have a number of protections under the law regarding the return of deposits. Check with your state's landlord-tenant laws for specifics.

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