Renting a home or apartment comes with a lot of perks, such as having little responsibility for wear-and-tear fixes and being able to move around at your own pleasure. On the flipside, you do have to deal with security deposits - you know, those personal money stashes that your landlord needs to feel safe about your tenancy. While you probably can’t avoid this necessary evil, there are steps you can take to greatly increase the chances of getting your security deposit back when you move out.
Criticize The Rental
When you first move in, your landlord should complete a room-by-room inspection checklist with you. Although you may still be enchanted with your new home, you should focus on the inspection and complete this form as if your life depended on it.
List every dent, mold area, and spot on the carpet until your landlord is second-guessing his efforts to prepare for new tenants. You should treat this written inspection as a golden opportunity to protect yourself, setting up the evidence for a grounded disagreement if needed.
In fact, take your efforts a step further. Snap pictures of every room, including close-ups of damaged areas, and tuck them away for the unlikely event that you’ll need them in court. Then, if a question ever comes up about the cause of damages, you’ll have ample proof that you’re not at fault.
Have Some Forethought
During your stay at the rented apartment or house, do some extra documenting whenever damages occur. Keep records of all maintenance and office correspondence, getting as much of these conversations on paper as possible.
And, of course, take pictures when the damages happen, not weeks or months later. These copious records will help you avoid getting blamed for something that happened either from wear and tear or from previous tenants.
Schedule A Pre-Inspection Before Moving Out
While the above steps sound like jolly ideas, you’re likely already past these two stages of tenancy by now. You may have even punched a few gaping holes in the wall, and your kids may have obliterated some appliances. At this point, ask your landlord to walk through the place with you before you move out.
If the landlord agrees to this pre-inspection inspection, have them tell you what damages they might take out of your security deposit. Then, rather than coming out of the inspection deflated, fix the damages yourself or hire a professional. Even if you do hire someone else, you’ll probably find a professional for a lower price than what your landlord will deduct from your security deposit.
Don't Skip The (Final) Inspection
When you do schedule that final inspection, your landlord might prefer a time when you’re not going to be around. You should insist on being present at this inspection anyway. Even if you hate confrontation, your landlord may not pin you with a charge as often if you’re standing over his shoulder.
Then, before the meeting, make up your own final agreement stating the good condition of the rental and any other items that might protect your case. If you can, get your landlord to sign this agreement before he leaves the final inspection. This step may deter him from taking a charge out of your security deposit after the fact. After all, you have written record that you left everything in decent order.
Know Your State Law
Every state has their own Landlord-Tenant laws, and most (if not all) specify a deadline for the return of your security deposit. Your state likely has additional regulations pertaining to the security deposit, such as how and when they must notify you if they do not plan to return your deposit.
Work the Benefits of Depreciation
Sometimes, you’re just going to have to pay up when you’ve damaged something. It happens. On the other hand, you shouldn’t have to pay for a brand new stove if the previous one was several years old. Even here, you can milk depreciation to your benefit.
If a landlord charges you to replace or repair an item, he should take the age of the item into account. If a stove only had a few working years left in it, your landlord should only charge you based on the value that stove would have given in its last years.
Your landlord should not pin you with the full amount of the brand new item. In many cases, you can seriously reduce the amount of charges just by bringing up this point.
If you take good notes before and during your stay, clean the place until you can lick off the floor, and protect yourself with the laws of the land (i.e. read state laws and your rental agreement), you should get your full security deposit back. Then, the only question left will be how you’re going to spend the extra cash.