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The Secret to Getting Your Full Security Deposit Back

The end of a lease term can be an exciting (and stressful) time.


Alongside the joy and stress of moving and packing up your belongings, there is another factor renters must face--ensuring that the property is back to its original move-in state. This can ensure that you will get your full security deposit back.


Unfortunately, for most renters, the coveted return of the security deposit can feel elusive. Many have experienced a time when they felt confident that they met all criteria needed to receive a full refund on the security deposit, only to find they were charged getting all of your security deposit back, only to find that you were charged for areas they never even considered for assessment. In fact, according to a survey, 1 in 4 renters have not gotten their security deposit back when they expected to.


Want to know the secret to getting your full security deposit back? Thankfully, though it can feel like a mystery, there are a few tried-and-true ways to actively protect your security deposit while your renting, and after you’ve decided to move out.


Avoid Permanent Property Alterations:

You probably are aware that a large hole in the wall or a stain on the carpet will result in a charge removed from your deposit, but it’s important to note that not all charges are the result of direct abuse of the property.


In the majority of areas, landlords are legally allowed to deduct your security deposit to pay for any work required to make the property look like it did at the start of the tenancy. This does exclude natural wear and tear, and it’s important to know your state laws regarding security deposits. However, in the majority of cases, your rental lease will include terms that instruct against permanent--or semi-permanent--alterations to the property and this means that any changes you make can cost you.


The biggest culprit in these scenarios is a permanent decor change. Painting the cabinets, replacing in-unit fixtures or tiling over the existing laminate can all cost you a pretty penny when your term ends. Even if you consider a change, like a new paint job or new window treatments, upgrades, your landlord might disagree. If you want to make a change, seek formal permission from your landlord or property manager; otherwise, opt for damage-free decor and storage options.


Know Your Renter Responsibilities:

Chances are, you will have some renter maintenance tasks for which you are responsible. If you are not careful to read over your lease in its entirety, you may miss information about important tasks that need to be addressed during your tenancy.


Since we have already established that damage charges are not always the result of abuse, it’s crucial to note those lease instructions that (if ignored) could result in damage due to negligence. Damage charges can be caused due simply to negligence throughout your residence on the property. For instance, if you failed to change the air filter in the central air system, causing some excessive tear and requiring the system’s replacement, or you didn’t keep the property clean—thus encouraging bugs that require an exterminator, you could face a truncated return at the end of your lease.


Finally, don’t forget to touch up any areas with minor damage. If you have rooms with small holes in the wall from nails or screws or loose hinges on cabinets, touch them up so your landlord does not need to. A landlord faced with minor damages will also need to consider the time spent repairing them, save yourself the cash (and your landlord the hassle) by making it a non-issue from the start.


Deep Clean Before Leaving:

Chances are, your unit was spic-and-span before you arrived. This is often because landlords and property managers hire a professional cleaner to leave the unit sparkling before a new tenant moves in. This may mean that you will be deducted the cost of the cleaning to ensure the rental is just as pristine as the day you signed the lease papers.


If you truly are hoping for a full return on your security deposit, you will have to thoroughly deep clean the rental before moving out. And while regular cleaning is crucial to ensuring that the property does not get damaged as a result of neglect, you likely are not truly deep cleaning regularly during your tenancy. Afterall, places like baseboards, the tops of cupboards, and under the entertainment center are rarely examined on a daily basis—and even more rarely cleaned. Deep clean your rental, and pull out all the stops—use a steam mop, get on your hands-and-knees, and use that elbow grease to make your rental shine! Ensuring that your landlord won’t have to pay a professional cleaner because of a mess you leave behind, is a surefire way to increase your deposit return.


If spending a few hours scrubbing the nooks and crannies of the rental does not seem appealing to you, consider hiring your own cleaning service before moving. You may find a better rate if you shop around for a professional house cleaner, than if you leave it up to your landlord to find one with your security deposit fees.


Finally, Be Sure to Ask Questions:

It’s an unfortunate reality that in spite of your best efforts, you may miss a spot that causes your landlord to deduct your deposit. In instances where your deposit is not returned or is only partially returned, knowing your rights as a renter can help you find out why you were charged. In most states, it is a requirement that the landlord informs their tenant in writing of the charges to your security deposit. Regardless of your state’s laws, your manager or landlord may be willing to explain exactly what caused an issue, if you ask. A written document or a verbal reply can be helpful to avoid the same issue at your next rental.


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