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September 3, 2019
Tagged in: Tips for Renters

By: Laurence Jankelow, cofounder at Avail

Naturally, you’ll want your security deposit back, and most landlords are honest. They should refund your check within 21 days of moving out. To ensure you and the landlord are in agreement, you should receive a letter from the landlord that confirms the refund.

This process should occur smoothly as long as you, the tenant, follow the rules we’ve outlined for you below.

Read Your Lease

Few of us closely peruse our lease. After all, we’re busy and going through a long document is tedious. However, at the end of the day, ignoring the small print may cost you big.

What are the tenant, or renter, conditions? From pets and accommodation to landscape maintenance and parking, all is spelled out in this form.

As for damages, landlords usually cover a tenant’s regular wear and tear, like replacing brittle Venetian blinds. At the same time, they may specify that you should fill in nail holes before you leave or clean the carpet.

Here are the items that you, as the renter, are typically expected to protect:

  • Walls (from stains)
  • Flooring/ carpets
  • Windows (from breaking)

Unfortunately, it’s the “biggies” — those things you, family, or guests may damage — that chip away money from your deposit.

Record Flaws and Take Pictures

As soon as you can, inspect your home. Note any flaws you find, however minor. These may include chipped paint, a dangling doorknob, or poor functionality of a light switch or faucet. Note missing items as well, like a cupboard shelf or bath stopper.

Snap pictures and keep these photos for your records. No one wants to be charged for damages already there when they moved in. If your landlord deducts funds from your security deposit for illegitimate fixes, use these pictures to challenge the deductions.

If there’s a particularly pressing problem that you want to be addressed — like that missing bath stopper — contact your landlord as soon as you can. Make sure they respond.

Another reason why photos are important is for that “wear and tear” we mentioned. What if the carpet is 10 years old? You’re naturally going to wear it further. Snap a picture of the carpet shortly after you move in to support your claim that costs for its wear-and-tear should not come out of your deposit.

Maintain And Fix

Look after your home, its furniture, and appliances — and beware of hazardous guests.

Typical culprits that cause damage include:

  • Furniture that scratches floors
  • Dirty hands that scuff wall paint
  • Picture nails that dent walls
  • Food and shoes (and the like) that stain carpets

Carpets are a biggie since carpet cleaning is expensive.

Here’s how you deal with these culprits:

  • Place felt under furniture legs (like the table or chair)
  • Buy adhesive hooks or nails for hanging pictures, which work on tile and plaster, too
  • Leave dirty shoes outside of your unit and place rugs under and around the table
  • Steam the carpet professionally or lay runners, or rugs, on high-traffic areas

Treat stains as soon as they occur. In fact, treat all accidents as soon as they occur!

And if the inevitable damage does occur?

Look up relevant YouTube clips or recruit a professional expert to help fix the situation. It will be cheaper for you to hire a reasonably-priced worker than to have your landlord deduct costs from your security deposit to fix the issue once you leave.

Most importantly: always ask your landlord, or leasing company, before you make any aesthetic “improvements”. You may consider a polka-dot paint job on the front door artistic, but your landlord may disagree and deduct the sum from your deposit.

Call Your Landlord

Some tenants feel too intimidated to call their landlord or leasing company. Other renters are simply too busy. However, you’ll want your landlord to address problems right away. Even small issues tend to accumulate and responsible landlords want to address these problems immediately.

Give your maintenance department a call before you end up paying for issues that could have been prevented, or else there goes that security deposit again!

Ask Your Landlord for an Itemized List

About 30 days before you’re set to move out, ask your landlord or leasing company which items they inspect for prime condition. Some landlords may have provided a move-in or move-out checklist to help you. Work your way through these items to make sure each passes inspection.

Why 30 days? You’ll want to look over your unit thoroughly. Later, you have the hassle of packing and moving to worry about. Also, if you move in peak season, professional cleaning companies, painters, or handymen may be hard to get.

Expect to wade your way through projects that include the following:

  • Filling in nail holes
  • Deodorizing pet odors
  • Cleaning the oven
  • Emptying trash
  • Scouring countertops
  • Scrubbing the bathroom
  • Scuffing marks off walls

Do you want that full refund? Make your place sparkle as it (hopefully) did when you moved in.

In Short

Honest landlords won't charge you for regular wear and tear. Keep your apartment in tip-top shape condition and you should get your security deposit back in full, within three weeks after you leave.

If repairs are needed, you’ll get an itemized statement on how your deposit was applied for cleaning and repairs.   

Most importantly, leave a correct forwarding address. Most states allow the landlord to keep the deposit if they can't contact you. After all that effort, you certainly don't want your check lost!

About the Author: Laurence Jankelow is the cofounder at Avail. Avail is an online platform for DIY landlords and their tenants. We provide tools, education, and support to make renting easy.