According to Rent.com, 26% of apartment renters have lost their security deposit at some point. People lose their security deposits for all kinds of reasons. There are justifiable ones—such as the hole your drunk friend punched in the wall at a party—and there are completely ridiculous ones, like failing to sweep the floor thoroughly enough.
Some people believe that not getting your security deposit back is the result of the apartment renter’s own neglect. Others see it as the result of a greedy landlord. The reality is often somewhere in between. Yes, apartment renters screw up and do things that result in forfeiture of the security deposit, and yes, some landlords are looking for excuses to hang onto the funds.
Fortunately, it’s possible to outsmart your own tendencies and your landlord’s over-attention to details with the following six tips for getting your apartment security deposit back.
The process of getting your security deposit back might feel like a mystery shrouded in secrets, but there are ways to make it more straightforward. One such way is to look at your lease. This contains information about how much you might expect to have deducted from your security deposit for various types of damage. It’s also a great reminder of some of the rules you may have forgotten or ignored, such as no pets, painting or modifications. Being aware of these items will help you fix any damage before moving out.
Look, we weren’t all born with the cleaning gene. If you don’t excel at vacuuming and scrubbing, hire professional cleaners to deep clean your apartment after all of your stuff is in the moving truck. For a budget-friendly alternative to hiring cleaners, rent a Rug Doctor (you can usually find them at your grocery store or hardware store) and shampoo the carpet yourself.
Pro tip: Save the receipts for these expenses so that you can show them to your landlord if he or she challenges you on the cleanliness of the apartment. If you’re moving for work, these receipts are also potentially tax deductible.
Before your official move-out date, see if your landlord will agree to a pre-walkthrough. Plan on doing this about two weeks before you move out, and make sure the apartment is entirely clean and mostly empty. If your landlord agrees to this, ask for an itemized list of things that he or she would like you to fix (i.e. repairing that chipped paint in the bathroom) before you move out.
The best way to get your security deposit back when you move out is to do your due diligence when you move in. Record the condition of the apartment when you move in with photos, video and in writing (preferably in a document that is signed by your landlord). This will ensure that you don’t lose your security deposit over the previous tenant’s damage.
When the moment of truth comes and it’s finally time for your landlord to inspect your apartment, ask if you can be there. This will help you protect yourself against losing out on money for minor things ($50 for coat hangers left behind?!?!) and will allow you to clear up any misunderstandings.
If something seems sketchy, challenge it. For example, if your landlord is insisting on taking a new—and unnecessary—paint job out of your security deposit or deducting $100 for wiping down the linoleum in the kitchen, fight it. If you rent through a corporate run property management company, appeal to them with photos and detailed records.
Remember, there are no shortcuts to getting your security deposit back (that old plugging the hole in the wall with toothpaste trick doesn’t work on every landlord). The best way to do it is by following your landlord’s rules and by renting from a property management company that will follow leasing laws. Once you’ve done everything on your end, be sure to take a look at security deposit laws in your state so that you know exactly when you can expect to get your money back.