9 secrets to getting your security deposit back

Many have been there before. You’ve notified the landlord that you’re moving out, cleared the last month’s rent and any other pending bills and everything seems set for relocating except for one thing – the security deposit. 

You know that getting your hands on that hefty chunk of change, and on time, would significantly ease your burden. So how do you convince the landlord to release the security deposit on your lease when they’re withholding it or taking too long? Here are several quick pointers.

  1. Review your lease agreement before moving out (and moving in!)
    The lease agreement includes crucial information about security deposit policies. It should tell you when and how to notify the landlord that you’re moving out. It should also detail the terms and conditions for receiving your security deposit back including the moving out inspection requirements as well as the landlord’s time limit for releasing the money. 
  2. Know your landlord
    Knowing your landlords’ reputation before negotiating with them will give you a much-needed advantage. You can check out your landlord on sites like ratemylandlord.com and reviewmylandlord.com to see their reviews. This will help you figure out who you’re dealing with, what he or she likes and doesn’t like, as well as the kind of negotiation tactics to employ. 
  3. Document all existing damages
    Take photos of all existing damages when you first move in and send them to your landlord. Ensure they are date/time-stamped. Also, keep a record of all repairs done during your stay. This ensures the landlord can’t blame you for any pre-existing damages. 
  4. Find another tenant
    If you must leave before your lease agreement ends, go out of your way to find a new tenant. Most landlords will claim that your security deposit is no longer valid if they can’t re-rent the property for the period remaining in your lease term. 
  5. Give proper notice
    Counter-check with the lease agreement to give your landlord a notice that adheres to what the document stipulates. Ideally, a notice should be in written form. You don’t want a landlord to charge you additional fees by pleading ignorance at move-out time. Also, ensure to send your notice 30 days before your move-out date. 
  6. Get your rental in good shape
    As a rule of thumb (when moving out), always clean a rental thoroughly and fix any damage caused by you, your pet, or guests. You can even document all the repair and cleaning work so you have proof. Furthermore, don’t forget to remove everything, including food, cleaning supplies, and garbage, as well as return the keys when you leave. 
  7. Send the landlord your forwarding address
    Some states allow landlords to hold onto the security deposit if they can’t locate its recipient after a given period. 

Know your rights

Most states stipulate that once you move out, a landlord has about two to three weeks to mail the following: 

a). A statement detailing how he applied the security deposit towards cleaning, repairs, and back rent.
b). What’s left of the initial deposit (including any interest as stipulated by your state)
c). A list of all proposed deductions (if required by your state)

Follow up with your landlord

If you’re unhappy with the deductions, the landlord broke state security deposit law in some way, or you didn’t receive an itemization statement, try to work things out. If you come to any agreement – perhaps the landlord agrees to return part of your deposit after some additional cleaning – confirm in writing and get it signed. This makes it a legal contract. 

You can then write the landlord a demand letter if they fail to honor your agreement. When all else fails, sue them in a small claims court and use the legal contract, the demand letter, and any other evidence to prove your case. 

Stop problems before they arise

The ultimate secret to getting your security deposit back is simply maintaining an excellent relationship with your landlord. If the two of you get along well, no misunderstanding can easily escalate into a major disagreement. So try to always pay rent on time and care for the premises as if it is your own.