Chances are that you have handed over a lot of money in order to secure and move into your apartment. You may also have heard a horror story or two about someone you know whose landlord gave them the run around, denied them of their deposit or even charged them additional money for so-called damages on move out day.
Here are 5 tips for avoiding those disputes with your landlord, protecting yourself and getting back all of your money:
Tip #1 – Protect Your Deposit When You Sign
Although it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of finding a new place, it is important to remember that you are entering into a contractual, binding agreement. Read all of the fine print and ask questions if anything unclear. Your rental agent or landlord should provide you with specific answers to any vague terms. Know what utilities if any (ex. water, gas, cable, trash pick up, etc.) are included in the price. Once you sign the lease, get an itemized receipt for your deposit. This receipt will identify each charge, including pet deposit, last month’s rent, cleaning fees and so on.
Tip #2 — Protect Your Deposit Before You Move In
Before you move in, ask the landlord if he will do a walk through with you to inspect the unit. This should take place after the last tenant has completely moved out and the landlord has had his cleaning service come in, paint etc. Carefully check the working order of all lights/bulbs, electrical outlets, stove, A/C, refrigerator etc. Be sure to lock/unlock and open/close all windows, closets and doors. Pay special attention to cracks in the kitchen countertops and holes or markings on the wall.
This is also a good time to ask if you are allowed to paint, if there are any color restrictions, and if you are expected to repaint upon moving out, etc. Note any flaws or appliances which do not work on the inventory sheet, which your landlord provides. If your landlord does not have this, use a piece of paper and ask him to sign and date it. Keep a copy. (If they won’t sign, send a copy to your landlord’s office and mail one to yourself which you save unopened). Pictures or videos of the existing condition of the apartment can also be helpful later.
Remember, after a year or more it is easy to forget and often management in rental building changes. This will serve as valuable protection and documentation of the “state” of the apartment when you moved in.
Tip #3 – Know the Laws In Your State
You don’t have to be a lawyer, but it is good to be familiar with your rights. Generally, the laws in the United States are in favor of the renter, but you should know your rights for the state and city in which you live.
In cities without rent control, there are no limits on security deposit increases. Allowable increases to security deposits can vary, depending on a city’s rent control law.
In some cities covered by rent control, a landlord must pay interest every year and return the deposit plus interest when the tenant moves out. The landlord must agree to do a pre-move-out inspection and can only withhold the deposit for certain specific reasons.
For example, in California, your landlord will ask for some type of deposit when you move in. Whatever it is called, the law treats this initial payment as security deposit subject to California Civil Code Section 1950.5. According to this state law:
Ã¢Â?Â¢ There is no such thing as a “non-refundable” security deposit. No matter what it’s called–a key deposit, cleaning fee, move-in fee, closing costs, last month’s rent, etc.–all money you pay in addition to your first month’s rent is refundable. Since “non-refundable” deposits are illegal, don’t worry if your rental agreement includes a section about a “non-refundable” deposit. This section will not be valid even if you have signed the rental contract or agreed to it.
Ã¢Â?Â¢ No matter what it’s called, the total amount the landlord can charge for all the deposits (including last month’s rent) is twice the amount of one month’s rent for an unfurnished place or three times one month’s rent for a furnished place.
Make sure that you do some online research if you have any concerns about your rights in the place where you live.
Tip # 4 — Protect Your Deposit Before Moving Out
As when moving in, you can take some basic precautions when moving out. It is always recommended that you give at least 30 days written notice to your landlord before you move out. In some states, you are technically responsible to pay rent for these 30 days and your landlord can deduct “unpaid rent” from your deposit. If you need to move quickly because of conditions in your apartment or if you are breaking a lease, you should try to negotiate with your landlord to see if he is flexible with the arrangement. If that is unsuccessful, talk to a Tenants Union counselor.
Tip # 5 – Protect Your Deposit When You Move Out
On move out day, have the landlord or manager do a final inspection of the apartment with you. This is usually the best time to turn in your keys. Some landlords may exchange your security deposit for the keys. Ask when you set up the final inspection, if this is possible to do. Be sure to have the landlord/manager sign and date a statement saying that that the unit is clean and in good condition. If the landlord won’t exchange keys or sign a statement, take pictures of the condition of the apartment (hold up a copy of the day’s newspaper to show the pictures weren’t taken earlier). You should be prepared to protect yourself.
Many states have laws which allow 30 days for a landlord to return a security deposit. If this is the case in your state, wait patiently. After 30 days, send a written letter and ask what is causing the delay and give a deadline date of when you expect the money. Remember, many landlords withhold all security deposits expecting that many tenants will not take the steps to get back their money.
If your landlord does not return your security deposit or respond within a reasonable amount of time, you will need to sue in Small Claims Court. Small Claims Court is informal and no lawyers are allowed. You will be charged a small filing fee.
In general, there are many upstanding, law-abiding landlords that are easy to rent from provided that you are a respectful tenant to their property. However, it never hurts to take preventative measures to ensure that you are looking out for #1Ã¢Â?Â¦.your money!