Security Deposit: What Every Student Renter Ought to Know

Most young people rent their first apartment while they are in college. Being out on their own, away from their parents’ home (at long last) can be considered a right of passage. As with all such events in a person’s life, it can go smoothly or it can be filled with pitfalls. One of the major pitfalls to look out for, when it comes to renting an apartment, is the matter of the security deposit.

Every landlord is intent on getting that money from prospective renters before they’re ever handed the keys to a unit and allowed to move in. The purpose of the deposit is to cover any damage the student tenant (or guests) may do to the unit. More specifically, damage in this instance refers to anything which is over and beyond what’s considered to be ordinary wear and tear.

For example, if a student has a party where guests spill drinks (or some other substance) on a carpet, effectively ruining it, the security deposit would be used by the landlord to replace the carpet (or to put in another type of floor covering). Since the security deposit usually amounts to the equivalent of a month’s rent, it’s an appreciable amount of money. Thus, not surprisingly, most tenants want as much of it back as possible, when they vacate the premises.

There are several key steps which a student renter can take to increase the chances of collecting full return of the security deposit. They include the following:

1) before even signing the lease agreement for an apartment (or condo or house), read carefully the clause in it which specifies (a) the amount of the security deposit, (b) how it will be handled during the period of the lease (most such funds are deposited in a financial institution and draw interest at a specified rate), (c) the basis for withholding any portion of it at the conclusion of the term of the lease, and (d) when it will be returned to the renter (usually within a period of 4-8 weeks, once the apartment has been vacated.

2) take pictures of the actual unit the renter will be occupying. In other words, once the earlier tenant has moved out and the unit has been cleaned and prepared for the next tenant, walk through each room, taking pictures of the condition of everything–walls, floors, heating vents, the toilet and other bathroom fixtures, the stove, the kitchen sink, etc.

3) if anyone (either the student or any guest) does ever damage the unit, the student should repair it (or have the damage repaired) himself.

4) at the end of the lease, once the student’s belongings are off of the premises, he should walk through the apartment once again, taking pictures of everything–fixtures, floors, etc.–to show the condition they’re in.

5) when returning the keys to the landlord, the student renter should ask specifically about the return of the security deposit, indicating that he expects to receive it all–not only the original amount paid, but also the interest which it has accrued during the period of the lease.

By following this course of action, a student renter should have no difficulty in having all of the security deposit returned.

However, if a landlord does balk, then the student renter should not hesistate. He should take the landlord to Small Claims Court. People speak for themselves in Small Claims Court. There is no need for lawyers in that setting. With his copy of the original signed lease, along with the photos taken before and after renting the unit, a student will have sufficient proof to demonstrate clearly to the judge why the landlord should be ordered to return all of the security deposit.

In most cases, renters won’t have to resort to Small Claims Court. But, it’s available to them, if needed.

Since most students operate on tight budgets, it’s imperative to have all of their security deposit (with interest) refunded. They are perfectly within their rights to challenge any landlord who appears to refuse to follow through on a legal obligation to return all of the money, when it’s warranted.

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