Updated November 2017
An astonishing 108 million Americans are renters, according to a recent Rocket Lawyer survey. That means a good portion of the U.S. population (34 percent) goes through the process of renting out a property from a landlord. Most of us are familiar with it. Rental application. Reference letters. Security deposit. The first two: no sweat.But the last step, can a landlord keep your deposit? It still seems perplexing.
We found ten common reasons why tenants don’t receive their security deposit refund. Of course, your particular lease agreement may have unique clauses that we don’t list below, but this is a general guideline.
Here are 10 reasons why you’re simply not getting your security deposit back:
You don’t know the basics of rental law or your tenant rights
Your lease agreement not only protects your landlord but you as the tenant. Before you sign anything, make sure you agree with everything that’s put into writing. And more important, learn and follow the clauses of the agreement, which can help give your landlord fewer reasons to deduct from your deposit. You don’t have to become a rental law expert by any means. It’s just a reminder to stay proactive. If something your landlord is doing seems off, we have great resources to jumpstart your research and help you get protected.
You owe your landlord for late or unpaid rent
When a contractual obligation to pay the monthly rent is not fulfilled, a landlord in most states is allowed to keep all or a portion of the security deposit necessary to cover the unpaid portion of the rent. Nonpayment is considered a breach of a lease.
You didn’t thoroughly inspect the property
Before you sign anything, be sure to walk through the initial inspection with your landlord. Make sure that they record all damages and take photos of each room. This is to ensure that you won’t have to pay damages that actually occurred before you moved in.
Renter deposit rights: You must document everything
One of the biggest tips for dealing with business or anything legal? Put it in writing! Keep all correspondences and paperwork (or “digital work”) in a secure place. You may need it later to use it as a reference when your landlord doesn’t remember agreeing to upgrade your rundown stove.
You left damage to the rental property
Have a leaky faucet? Tell your landlord. Immediately. If the repairs are longstanding, your lease may not allow you to be reimbursed for the damages, whether they were inadvertent or not. It’s also never a good idea to take care of maintenance issues yourself such as re-tiling the floor. without getting written consent to avoid being responsible for any damages that happen.
You owe money on utilities or HOA fees
We will say it again, it’s very important to read over your lease agreement to make sure that you are being compliant with the whole agreement. There may be fees included in your lease that you are unaware of. Such as fees for late payment on utilities, billing not being up-to-date and even HOA fees.
You terminated the lease early or got evicted
In most states, if you’re renting month to month, you must give them 30 days notice. If not, your landlord could take that extra month of rent from your security deposit. If a tenant breaks their lease, the landlord can keep all or part of the security deposit necessary to cover the costs associated with this breach depending on landlord-tenant laws in your state.
You’re guilty of property abandonment
Property abandonment is when furniture and belongings are left unattended in the rental property for 15 days or more. If the landlord has to pay someone to move the furniture out of the property and clean up, in most states, they are allowed to keep all or a portion of the security deposit to cover any fees.
You left the landlord with clean up costs
In most cases, your landlord is not able to keep your deposit because of normal wear and tear on the property. However, if you leave trash all over the property, food in the kitchen, and if there is a pet and they have destroyed the carpet, then, the landlord can keep a portion of the security deposit to cover your expenses.
You didn’t meet with your landlord to do an exit inspection
Hopefully, you did an initial inspection and took photos because that’ll make your exit inspection that much easier. Ensure that there’s no discrepancy between your landlord’s report and your observations. Use what you recorded at the initial inspection for reference.
Don’t worry if you’re guilty of any of the blunders above (we’ve all been there). Want to learn more? Visit our tenants rights center to discover how to protect yourself in your next rental situation or if you have any questions ask a lawyer.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.