TenantsTips / USA / Keeping a Security Deposit Protected

Keeping a Security Deposit Protected

When you move into a rental property, you likely have to pay a security deposit, which protects the landlord in case the property is damaged in anyway. Although the moving process can be draining in and of itself, it’s important to start thinking about keeping your security deposit intact from the day you move into a property, to save yourself future hassles and headaches.

Although the moving process can be draining in and of itself, it’s important to start thinking about keeping your security deposit intact from the day you move into a property, to save yourself future hassles and headaches.

  • The first thing you should do when you move into a property, or even before you sign a lease or rental agreement, is to thoroughly inspect the property. It’s much easier to see potential problems or damage when there’s no furniture in a unit. Keep an eye out for anything that could create problems when you ask for the return of your security deposit—this includes dirt, damage, and even just standard wear and tear. Carefully inspect appliances, the walls, the floor, and even the sinks.
  • If your landlord does not provide one, you should obtain a checklist, which is a standard form to take an inventory of the condition of a property. It’s best to fill out this checklist on-site, with your landlord present, which can help prevent future disputes. It’s also important to make the checklist as detailed as possible. For example, if there’s a burn mark on carpet, don’t simply list damage carpet—instead list that it’s burned, and if possible, the source of the burn. You should keep a copy of the checklist, and also give your landlord a copy, after both parties have signed off on it. There are some states that require these checklist documents by law, including:

Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and North Dakota

  • Always take pictures to accompany your damage report, and for even more protection, also take video. If you are able to take a video of the damage, you should include the time and date the video is being taken.
  • Be aware of exactly what your security deposit is. Many states, including New York and California, dictate that any money that is paid on-top of the first month’s rent is a security deposit, which by law means this money is refundable. In some cases a lease may call this money a cleaning fee, or a move-in fee, or some other name, but by law it is still refundable, just as a security deposit is.
  • Ask your landlord to complete a move-out inspection before you actually leave the property, so that you’ll have the chance to discover damage and then make the repairs. You should schedule this inspection several weeks ahead of your move-out date, so that you have ample time to make the repairs.
  • State rental laws determine what a landlord can legally deduct from a security deposit, under the terms of a lease agreement, so familiarize yourself with these laws. Most states require that landlords provide their tenants with an itemized list of deductions that result in less than 100% of a security deposit being refunded.
  • If a landlord does not fully refund a security deposit that you believe should have been refunded, you should ask your landlord directly why deductions were made. If you disagree with the deductions, ask for a refund both in-person and through a written letter or email. If the landlord does not refund your money based on your reasonable request, it may be necessary to use mediation services or even small claims court. Before going through any of these processes, you should research your state’s security deposit laws, to ensure that you’re in the right, before spending the time and money to fight your landlord.


Keeping a Security Deposit Protected

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