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How to Get Your Security Deposit Back

Are you a renter and it's time to move? 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 flip side, 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 always complete a room-by-room move-in inspection with you. Although you may still be enchanted with your new home, you should keep your 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.

If your landlord decides to skip the inspection it's important that you still complete one on your own. When the time comes to move out you'll be elated that you took the time to document the condition of the rental before you moved in.

Have Some Forethought

During your stay at your rental, if damages occur be sure to document everything. Keep records of all maintenance and office correspondence, getting as many of these conversations on paper as possible. And, of course, take pictures when the damages happen, not weeks or months later.

You never know, these records will help you avoid getting blamed for something that happened either from wear and tear or from previous tenants.

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Save Your Documentation

You've heard of the cloud, right? When it comes to your new apartment rental the cloud is your friend! Save your rental documents, such as your lease and pictures from your pre-move inspection, as well as important correspondence between you and your landlord.

Saving your documents in the cloud is easy! Use an app like Google Drive, which is free to everyone who has a Google account. Use a mobile app like Adobe to scan documents with your phone and save them in the cloud.

Schedule A Move-Out Inspection

Some landlords provide a "pre-move out" inspection to tenants. This typically involves the landlord doing a visual check with the tenant to give them a heads-up of damages or concerns they could be charged for and allows them to correct the problem before the final move-out inspection. Think of it is a move-in inspection, but in reverse.

The costs of repairing problems yourself are often less expensive than what your landlord would deduct from your security deposit. Here's a pro tip: Before your inspection make sure you understand what your landlord can charge you for and address any items on the list that could be a problem.

Don't Skip The (Final) Inspection

When you schedule that final inspection, your landlord might prefer a time when you’re not going to be around. Don't allow that to happen, even if you hate confrontation. The condition of the apartment becomes a case of one person's word against the other when the tenant isn't present during the inspection.

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 leaving the final inspection. Oh, and save these documents in the cloud!

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How Long can a Landlord Keep a Security Deposit?

Most states give the landlord up to 30 days to return their tenant's security deposit. For the specific law in your state, see deadline for returning security deposits (state-by-state). 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.

Charged for Damage? Don't Panic

Sometimes there's no getting around it- you’re just going to have to pay up when you’ve damaged something. On the other hand, you shouldn’t have to pay for a brand new stove if the previous one was several years old. That's where depreciation comes into play. Using a depreciation calculator you can estimate what the stove is worth today, not when it was purchased.

All in all, if you take good notes before and during your stay, do a thorough cleaning of the place until you can lick off the floor, and protect yourself by knowing the laws of the land (i.e. read state laws and your rental agreement), you should be getting your full security deposit back. Then, the only question left will be how you’re going to spend the extra cash.

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