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How to Get Your Security Deposit Back

U.S. dollars

A picture illustration shows U.S. dollar bank notes, taken in Warsaw January 26, 2011. Picture taken January 26. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel (POLAND - Tags: BUSINESS)Reuters

You’ve packed up, you’ve got a new place to move into and you’re getting ready to clean out the old place. But if you want to get the security or rental deposit back from your landlord, you may have to do more than simply dusting and vacuuming.

The security deposit sum you pay prior to moving in is not only a collateral to hold the rental, but an amount of money that the landlord can use to fix any damage that you, as a tenant, may have done after you move out. Generally, a tenant is not responsible for “normal wear and tear.” However, if you set a frying pan on a laminate counter-top, for example, you will most likely be responsible for the repair.

Outside of any major damages and with a little bit of hard work, you should be able to get your rental deposit returned.

Document the Damages

Although this is a little late in the game when you’re packing up, one of the first things you should do when moving into a rental is to itemize and document anything damaged: a dent in the fridge, a hole in the wall, a chip in the mirror. Take photos and write everything down. Have your landlord present to review these items. Then, send a copy to the landlord, (and keep one for yourself), so there is documentation of the issues present at the time you moved in. Take photos when you move out as well, for comparison. One suggested tip is to include a current newspaper in one of the photos to prove the date or take photos with a camera that provides a time stamp.

Look Over the Lease

What is expected of you upon moving out? Do you have to find someone to clean the carpets or patch holes or is that something your landlord will cover? Read through the lease and take note of the requirements contingent upon getting your deposit back.

Walk-Through

Want to know exactly what needs to be done before you move out? Have your landlord walk through the rental with you and tell you exactly what needs to be done to get your full deposit back.

Bring in the Professionals

This is not your 5-minute or even 20-minute clean. Dust, vacuum, scrub and scour your rental. Unsure if you can clean the place up to your landlord’s standards? Hire a cleaning or repair company to do the work for you. Make sure to keep receipts from any professional work to give to your landlord when you move out.

Deposit and Receipt

When you turn in your keys, ask for a receipt of the deposit. The damage deposit can only be used to pay for repairs and landlords must document what was repaired if the deposit is not returned in full. According to NOLO Law for All, most states require property managers to return the deposit within 14 to 30 days. If you believe that the returned sum is not accurate or the landlord did not correctly document repairs, you may have cause to sue the landlord in small claims court.

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