Getting your security deposit back shouldn't be difficult, but according to a recent Rent.com survey of 1,000 renters, roughly a quarter have lost their deposit at some time. Consider these tips to make sure you get your hard-earned money back:
1. Document everything. When you've fallen in love with a new apartment, it can be easy to overlook a small stain in the carpet or think the landlord will remember that broken blind. (Spoiler alert: They probably won't.) It's important to carefully inspect your potential new residence and document all existing problems before signing the lease. In some cases, the landlord may make the repairs before you move into the apartment. At the very least, documenting pre-existing problems will save you the hassle of conflicts later on and will protect you from unwarranted charges to your security deposit when it comes time to move out.
2. Know the rules--and follow them. The easiest way to lose your security deposit is by breaking the terms of your lease. Just ask the 40 percent of renters in the Rent.com survey who lost their deposit for this very reason. It's important to know and abide by your landlord's policies on customizing your new digs, such as painting or installing new lights, having pets (including weight limits or breed restrictions) and lease termination. If you receive verbal permission to do anything that isn't covered in the terms of your lease, get it in writing. Like a number of renters, some landlords can't recall what the agreement was when the time comes for your lease to expire.
3. Don't leave a mess. Lay the foundation for getting your deposit back by leaving the apartment in the best possible condition. Although leaving it untidy is not a reason for forfeiture of your security deposit, you don't want to give your landlord an excuse to delay the process. You aren't expected to replace the carpeting or re-panel wood floors, but you shouldn't leave debris on the floor either. Take care of any small repairs, but talk to your landlord before doing anything big, as you don't want to run the risk of turning minor damage into major damage and have to forfeit your security deposit.
4. Know your renter rights. More than a third of the renters surveyed who did not get back their deposits (36%) said the landlord gave no explanation--which is actually illegal in 47 states. Unless you live in Louisiana, North Carolina or West Virginia, your landlord is required by law to give you a written account of charges to your security deposit. Specific laws vary by state and sometimes by county, so make sure you know your rights as a renter in your community. Unless your landlord can show you a specific damage assessment, with a cost that meets or exceeds your security deposit, the security deposit is your money--make sure you take it with you on your way out.
Niccole Schreck is the Rental Experience Expert for Rent.com, the only free rental site that helps you find an affordable apartment, gives you tips on how to move and then says, "Thank you" with a prepaid $100 Reward Card.