One thing you must do when renting a new house is to pay a security deposit. 

When moving out, your landlord automatically gives it back, right? Well, not always. 

Some landlords will have you running around in circles till you give up on the amount. Others will conjure up flimsy reasons why you can’t get your deposit back. 

The best thing to do is to find out what you can do to ensure you get your deposit (or as much of it as possible) back. 

So how should you go about it? Here are some pointers. 

Review Your Lease or Rental Agreement

The best time to read your lease is before you sign it. The second best time to look at it is before giving your notice. 

Doing this brings you alive to the clauses in the lease and the rules and requirements central to you getting your security deposit back. 

Some of the key things to pick out are:

  • Your obligations to the property
  • What is considered normal wear and tear
  • How many days of written notice should you give?

Adhering to the stipulations places you in good standing with the landlord. It also gives you some leverage should you take your landlord to court.

Give Proper Notice

Rules around notice periods differ from lease to lease and state to state. For example, a standard lease requires a 30-day notice. However, it's common to find 45-day notice periods. This slight oversight can cost you. 

You must give proper notice to avoid being forced to pay your landlord in lieu or wait longer to get your deposit back. This takes us back to our first point: comb through your lease agreement when moving in and again before giving notice. 

Repair Any Damages

Let's work backward on this. 

A security deposit protects the landlord from damage and neglect to their property. So one reason landlords use to retain security deposits is that there is damage to the house, and hence need to use your security deposit to make the repairs. When this happens, the landlord has all the leeway, and you have little control or knowledge of how much of the deposit goes into the repairs. 

You can use this information to your benefit. If there are no damages to the house, then there isn't much reason for the landlord to hold on to your security deposit. 

After you give your notice, do a walk-through with the landlord or their agent and have them point out any areas they would want repairs. Have a contractor handle these. This way, you can find an affordable one and negotiate the costs. You can then claim your entire deposit after this. 

Deep Cleaning

Before leaving, arrange to deep clean the house from walls to windows to carpets. This will be easy to do after you have moved all your stuff. 

Clean and scrub everything. Take out the trash, vacuum, clean and empty the refrigerator, scrub toilets and clean the bathroom and faucets. You get the idea. 

Similarly, restore the house's original color if you had made a drastic change to it.

Your landlord is likelier to refund the deposit if the house is in great shape. 

Document Everything

While you want to assume that the landlord will act in good faith, this can not be guaranteed.

So you want to have some photos of the house right before you move in and when moving out. 

Before moving in, you need photos of the condition of the house. Pay particular attention to any damages on the property. You can also have these mentioned in your lease agreement so they do not become your obligation on moving out. 

Once you have given notice, made repairs, and done a deep cleaning, take photos and videos documenting the pristine condition in which you have left the house. These will help protect you should a dispute arise. 

Know Your Rights

You need to know what protections the law offers you as a tenant. This will be especially important when dealing with a problematic or unscrupulous landlord. 

Again, these vary from state to state, and you need to know the regulations regarding security deposits in your state. 

Similarly, if you need to break your lease, equip yourself with information on how to break a lease without being penalized. 

Move All Your Stuff

Anything the landlord is forced to move or dispose of can be billed on your security deposit. This is likely to be stipulated in your agreement. 

In short, you have to move all your belongings. Bring everything to the new house, and dispose of or donate the items you don't wish to carry with you. 

The rule is that anything the landlord has to sort out themselves comes from your security deposit. 

The other thing is keys. These are easy to forget, but when you do, it will cost you. 

Give back the keys to the property, be it to doors, the gate, the mailbox, and any other keys given to you when you moved in. Again, if the landlord has to make new keys or change the locks, the costs will be covered by your security deposit. 

Imagine paying for keys you have no use for!

Ask, and You Shall Receive (hopefully)

Tenant and landlord laws only protect your right to get your security deposit back if you request it. If you don’t ask, and the landlord conveniently forgets about it, you could potentially lose your cash. 

Typically, landlords should refund the security deposit in 30 days. Be sure to include a deposit refund request when issuing your notice. Follow up after 30 days if nothing is forthcoming.  

Should you move to court, you must show that you requested the deposit and never got it. Don’t forget to ask. 

Ready to Move?

If you are ready to move, this checklist should help you handle the process correctly and increase your chances of getting your full security deposit back. After all, it’s your money.