Security Deposits- Protecting Your Rights as a Renter

Security deposit refund: Renting a house or apartment is the way to go if you don’t plan to be in an area long, or just don’t think it’s the right time to buy. Coming up with the first month’s rent and the security deposit can be a real strain on most budgets. Then when the time comes to move and pay deposits at your new residence, you want to have the former deposit to put down on the new place. However, many renters are surprised when they find out they are not receiving any or all of their deposit.

Understanding the security deposit is key. The security deposit is to protect the property owner from excessive damage to the apartment or the need for more than the usual cleaning when it is vacated. The deposit can range from a low amount such as $50 to as much as twice the monthly rent. Deposits can be negotiated, especially in areas where renters are hard to find. Offer a lower deposit, and you just might find it accepted in order to get the home rented. Be sure to check with your local Better Business Bureau to see if any claims have been filed against the current owner for not returning security deposits.

To make sure you get your deposit back, follow a few important steps.
Before moving into the home, make an appointment to go through the home with the owner or property manager. It is a good idea to bring along a friend or co-worker to act as a witness if needed later. Make a list of any damage to the home. Are there stains on the carpet? Water stains on the ceiling? Peeling wallpaper? Water damage to the areas under sinks? If there are vinyl floors, are they torn or discolored? Are there missing window locks, or door stops? Do all the light fixtures, plumbing, and electrical appliances work? Does the air conditioning/heating work? Any cracked or broken windows? What condition are the appliances in? Also note the cleanliness of the home in general.

When you have completed your list, ask the owner or manager to initial by each item and sign that he or she agrees to the listed damages. Take pictures of the damages listed, with the time and date stamp setting on your camera. Get in writing what the owner feels is your responsibility for the apartment and a time limit on how long after vacating the home your deposit will be returned. Give the owner a copy of the current damages.

Reasonable care must be taken of the apartment. Carpets may get dirty or walls scuffed during the time you live there. Some wear and tear is to be expected. However, you must care for the apartment in a reasonable manner. Keep a watchful eye on guests to insure no damage is done you would be held responsible for.

When the time comes to move, make sure you clean the apartment thoroughly. Many owners will give you a list of the items they check. Use this to makes sure you do a thorough job. Clean the appliances. Remove all items from the apartment. Leave nothing in the refrigerator, cabinets, closets, or storage room. A charge can be levied against your deposit for any items the owner has to remove. Replace any light bulbs that may have gone out. Vacuum and mop floors and clean the bathrooms.

When you are reasonably sure you have the apartment in the condition you rented it, barring the usual wear and tear, go back through with the owner for his inspection. Do this as soon as possible after vacating the home, before others have had a chance to tour it. Bring your list you made before moving in for comparison. When you and the owner have agreed that your deposit should be refunded, ask when you can expect it. Remember the agreement you had when you moved in for a time limit for returning it. Take pictures of the apartment again before you leave.

If you find you are in disagreement with the owner, or find the owner does not return the deposit as agreed, many renters just give up. Don’t do that. If you feel you are legally entitled to your deposit, write a letter to the owner explaining your position. Keep a copy of the letter for your records. If, in a reasonable time, you still have not gotten satisfaction from the owner, write again, this time mentioning that if the matter is not corrected, you will take further recourse.

If still no response, contact your local Better Business Bureau, giving them the full information, copies of all your documents and pictures, and copies of the letters you have sent the owner. They will contact the owner on your behalf, and most of the time can obtain resolution.

As a last resort, you can take the matter to your local Small Claims Court. You do not need a lawyer and the filing fee is small. There is a maximum amount that the case can involve with Small Claims Court, but most security deposits fall within the limits. In Small Claims Court, you and the owner will go before a local judge and he will hear each side and render his decision.

Security deposits are necessary to protect the owner. The renter is responsible for protecting his own interests. Know your rights and don’t give up if you feel you deserve your deposit but did not receive it. Happy Renting!

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