I just got a new job on the other side of town and the new commute is sucking the life out of me. I want to find a place closer to work when my lease runs out, but it’ll really set me back if I don’t get the entire security deposit back when I leave here. What can I do to make sure I get all my money back?
Full Question and Answer
As I’m sure you’re painfully aware, almost all landlords require you to pay a security deposit when you sign your lease. Fortunately, many states have laws that restrict what can be done with that money and how promptly any unused deposit money must be returned. Generally, landlords can use money from security deposits to cover any outstanding rent or other bills, like utilities, that weren’t paid before you moved out. But we assume you’re a model tenant and wouldn’t dare skimp out on your bills… Beyond that, your deposit can be used to cover whatever cost your landlord incurs in fixing anything in your apartment beyond “normal wear and tear.”
Unfortunately, what qualifies as “normal” will vary from landlord to landlord, so hopefully you’re not renting from someone with OCD. If you’ve lived in your apartment for a couple years, you’ve probably caused some light damage to the floors and walls. Typically, faded paint, matted carpet or scuffed floors in high-traffic areas would be considered normal wear and tear, and your landlord probably isn’t going to charge you to replace the carpet just because you walked around your apartment while you lived there.
However, if you spilled some two-buck chuck leaving a large red stain on the carpet and then vented your inebriated frustration by punching a hole in the wall, then you should expect your landlord to use money from your security deposit to fix the damage. If you’re ever in doubt, you can always ask your landlord if a particular repair should be done before you move out. Most states require the landlord to return any unused deposit money to you within 30 days, so don’t forget to leave your new address with your landlord so they know where to send the check!
In short, the best way to ensure you get all of your deposit back is to ensure the apartment looks basically the same when you return the keys to your landlord as it did when you walked through it for the first time. Scrub down the apartment, including inside, under and behind any appliances. Ideally, you planned ahead and did a walk-through of the apartment before you moved in, making note and taking photos of any damages or concerns that existed at that time. But even if you didn’t, use your best judgment and leave the place in a condition that you wouldn’t hesitate to move into if you were the new tenant. Better safe than out of fatty security deposit.