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How can I make sure I get my full security deposit back?

The simplest way to confirm you will get your full security deposit back is to communicate with your landlord. Lease Agreements often specifically explain what may lead to security deposit deductions, so it may be worthwhile to review your Lease Agreement first. When you talk to your landlord, also ask when they plan to issue the payment.

If your landlord is unwilling to discuss this with you, or seems to be acting unreasonably, it may be helpful to talk to a lawyer about what legal protections apply to your situation. The law varies from state to state, and often from city to city, when it comes to the return of security deposits. In areas with strong renter protections, landlords may be much more limited in the deductions they can claim. Additionally, there may be time limits that require a landlord to issue the payment within a certain amount of time after you move out.

Many landlords may be happy to conduct a walkthrough with you to inspect for damage before you turn in the keys. It can help to move furniture out before the walkthrough, and have the rental as clean as possible. If you see damage that you can repair, you may want to repair it before the walkthrough. Common items that renters can fix before a walkthrough include:

  • Nail holes from hanging pictures.
  • Minor damage to paint.
  • Minor damage to flooring or fixtures.

If you took pictures of the rental when you moved in, it can be helpful to have those on hand during a walkthrough. Pictures from when you moved in can show your landlord that damage was present before you got there.

Does wear and tear count against my security deposit?

Generally speaking, tenants are not responsible for normal wear and tear, but they are expected to keep the rental in good condition. If a tenant does not report when normal wear and tear leads to damage, the additional damage could be considered a tenant's fault. Damage that goes beyond normal wear and tear may lead to deductions from a security deposit for repairs.

Wear and tear damage may include:

  • Carpeting worn down from daily use, but not damaged by abuse.
  • Minor paint scuffs in areas where it would be expected.
  • Aging appliances, fixtures, and plumbing.
  • Faded paint or flooring.

The following is typically not considered wear and tear:

  • Damaged walls and flooring.
  • Broken doors, windows, and fixtures.
  • Removed doors and fixtures.
  • Burns and stains.

Do I need to fix nail holes and paint before moving out?

Before moving out, you may want to fill in nail holes and touch up the paint. If you do not, your landlord may charge you for fixing these issues, and the costs charged may be much higher than you would like. You may be able to ask your landlord in advance what the charges would be per fix, then evaluate if it may make sense to hire a professional to help, fix it yourself, or accept the deduction.

Do I need to remove upgrades?

If you upgraded fixtures, such as adding a ceiling fan, or a new kitchen sink, without first getting landlord approval, you may want to talk to your landlord about these before you move out. If you got prior approval, you may be required to leave the upgrades when you leave.

If you did not get approval first, landlords may not see an upgrade you made as a benefit, and may want to return the unit back to its original state. These situations can be complicated, and may require removing the upgrade yourself, forfeiting the upgrade, or being charged by the landlord for its removal. In rare situations, landlords may be willing to pay to keep the upgrades, but tenants generally do not have much negotiating power if there was no prior agreement that allowed the upgrade.

Can landlords deduct cleaning fees from a security deposit?

Cleaning may also be an important part of getting your deposit back. You may not need to have the carpets shampooed, repaint the whole unit, or do any deep cleanings, but it may help if you are concerned about being charged for damage beyond the usual wear and tear.

In some areas, if there are cleaning fees, it is required that those fees are clearly explained in the Lease Agreement. Usually, renters are expected to simply dust and make sure their unit is broom clean when they move out. Leaving items or trash behind may lead to cleaning or removal charges. Discussing how clean your landlord expects the unit to be when you move out can help avoid these unexpected fees.

If you have more legal questions about getting your security deposit back, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

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.

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