8 Tips to Get Back Your Security Deposit

couple getting keys from landlord

After you’ve dealt with the stress of moving, the last thing you want is the stress of dealing with a landlord holding onto your security deposit. That's your money, and you’re entitled to it, as long as you’ve left your rental in as good condition as it was when you moved in. Getting that security deposit should be simple if you’ve taken the right steps before, during, and after your move.

Notify the Landlord

All it takes is a simple written statement letting your landlord know you're leaving. Be sure to get it to them in the time frame on the lease. Provide an address where they can forward your security deposit. Date, sign, and keep a copy of that letter along with any other documentation acquired during your tenancy.

Read That Paperwork

Whether you’ve got a six-month lease, or a month-to-month agreement, you’ll likely be handed some sort of contract to sign and date. Read through it to find what you need to do when you decide to terminate occupancy.

Information on amount of notice you need to provide before leaving can vary depending on the agreement between you and your landlord. If your lease requires 60 days when you assumed you only needed 30, for example, that’s going to impact what you receive. Read the fine print and be sure to follow any further instructions required to keep your landlord from holding onto your money.

rental agreement

Make Necessary Repairs

Did you do a walk-through with the landlord before you moved in? Did you take pictures and document all the little defects that were already part of the rental? If you’ve lived in your space for a while, normal wear and tear is natural and should not affect your deposit, but incidents that have significantly marred your space will have to be addressed before you leave. If you have a good relationship with your landlord, ask them to do a walk-through with you before you leave so they can provide input on what to work on.

Basic fixes include patching the holes you made when you hung posters, framed art, and pictures. A bit of drywall putty can fill small holes, but larger ones may require a patch kit. After you’ve filled and patched, a fresh coat of paint goes a long way, especially if you painted your walls a wild color without getting permission to do so. You might be stuck painting it back to your landlord’s specifications, but it’s not all bad. Clear your head, breathe slowly, focus on your movements, and may just find yourself in a state of painting zen. You’re welcome.

Burnt out light bulbs and dead batteries are easy to replace—change them and move on to the next task, such as fixing any damage inflicted by any pets. We know how satisfying it is to bring a pet into our lives, but a dog suffering separation anxiety can truly do a number on your space. Smudges to the door from dirty paws can be easily cleaned, but damage from long nails digging into wood and paint may require sanding and painting to pass muster during that final walk through.

spackling a wall with a glove and flat tool

Top to Bottom Clean

It’s a given that you’ll have to clean, but this is different from your weekly sweep and mop jobs. Once all your stuff is out, it'll be easy to see the dust and dinginess that accumulates over time. Look up, then down in every room. Use a broom to catch the cobwebs in the corners, and step up to empty all the dead bugs out of the ceiling light fixtures.

Wipe down kitchen cabinet fronts, get behind the stove, sop up spills in the refrigerator, and dust the ceiling fan. There are dozens of forgotten spaces that you might not normally clean, so take a moment to dust, vacuum, or wipe them down. To save time, simply replace things that would take forever to clean, like the pans underneath kitchen burners.

Pay special attention to the kitchen and bathroom, including areas that got frequent use. If you had pets (or even if you didn’t and just want to freshen things up), sprinkle baking soda onto the carpet, and let it sit for several hours or overnight. Baking soda is a natural deodorizer that can help eliminate odors.

Take Pictures

When you moved in, you should have taken pictures to document the condition of your space. When you move out, do it again. Take video if you can, and be sure to document the things you upgraded or fixed.

Don’t Leave Your Junk Behind

It doesn’t matter how small, bring it with you, donate it, or toss it. Just don’t leave it behind, giving your landlord cause to say they had to hire someone to remove your clutter. If they have to pay someone to remove that six-foot fish tank, it’s most certainly coming out of your security deposit. Empty and sweep out storage areas and closets, and double check the cabinets before you leave.

Return the Keys

It’s easy to walk out the door after your last check of the rental, and head to your new space to begin the process all over again. Before you do that, make that one final stop and drop off the keys to your landlord. Don’t get stuck with a key replacement fee for each key you take with you.

Where’s My Security Deposit?

So you’ve followed all the steps and are still waiting for your deposit. Depending on where you live, it could be anywhere up to 30 days before you see it. If it’s been over 30 days, send a follow up letter to your landlord and request your security deposit. Hopefully your landlord simply forgot and just needed a reminder.

If it’s been a couple of weeks after that follow up letter, and you still haven’t received it, it's time to get legal. This can be a hassle and take time out of your busy schedule, and an unscrupulous landlord may use that to their advantage, but it’s your money, and you are entitled to it. You may have to bring a civil suit to get it back.

Moving is a hassle, and it can be expensive. Help keep costs down by being keeping good records and maintaining your space so you can get your security deposit back when you go.