The Road to Reclaiming Your Apartment’s Security Deposit

When renting a new apartment, one of the most tense moments is handing over the security deposit check. Amounts can range from under one hundred to many thousands of dollars, and there’s no guarantee that you will ever see this money again. Here are some tips to improve your odds of getting the largest possible amount back.

Start from Day One. Walk through your new apartment with the landlord and make a list of areas of obvious wear, such as carpet that’s stained or cracks in walls. List as many things as possible, because when you move out, anything not on this list is fair game. Both you and your landlord should keep a copy of this list.

Be nice to your landlord. Your mother was right: you do catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, or in this case, you’ll recapture more deposit dollars. Be pleasant to the apartment complex staff, even when issues arise. Remember that “normal wear and tear” is a subjective phrase, and well-liked tenants come out better on these judgment calls than problem tenants.

Don’t violate your lease terms. Security deposits are usually garnished when tenants their leases, such as not giving enough notice of intention to move out. Try to negotiate any “fixed cleaning fee” clauses, which allow your landlord a specific dollar amount of your security deposit to clean your former apartment for the next occupant.

Pay what you owe. While your security deposit is not legally considered rent, it can be used to compensate the landlord for unpaid rent. However, don’t make the mistake of not paying your last month’s rent, assuming that your deposit will cover this. Under Texas law, for example, landlords can sue tenants who do this for three times the amount of the deposit plus legal fees.

Exit gracefully. Once you decide to move out, give your landlord the required amount of notice, and give notice in writing. Make sure you include your new address, since landlords typically mail security deposit checks. Spend 30 minutes on basic vacuuming and dusting the day before your move. On moving day, walk through the apartment with your landlord after your furniture is out, and ask what he considers to be excessive wear so you have a chance to clean or repair things. Once you’ve cleaned the apartment, take pictures for your records. Make sure to return your keys, access cards, etc.

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