How to Get Your Security Deposit Back From Your Landlord
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How to Get Your Security Deposit Back From Your Landlord

Here are some tips to help you get your security deposit back from your landlord when you move.

How to get your security deposit back.

Getting your security deposit back isn’t as easy as it should be or as it sounds. Since all states have their own laws concerning the security deposit, this article gives you a general idea of the things you need to do.

When you first move in.

When you first move into a new place, make sure you and the landlord walk through the entire place and write down what you consider to be questionable or damaged. For example, a small rip in the carpeting, write that down. If the new landlord says they are going to have that fixed in a week, fine, when it is fixed then it can be crossed off that list.

Look at everything: is the fireplace clean, is the stove clean inside. Are there marks on the walls, Is everything clean.

Write it all down and then you and the landlord sign and date this paper right then and there.

This can be harder than it sounds since the landlord is friendly and you might feel you don’t want to make waves. But believe me, when it comes time to move out and get your deposit back, that landlord and the situation might not be very friendly at all.

Understand your lease and get everything in writing. If you should have to go to court to get your security deposit back, courts don’t like verbal agreements so get everything in writing and understand it.

Smoking, if the landlord says smoking is permissible, make sure that it says exactly that in the lease.

Pets, if pets are okay, make sure it says that in the lease.

What does the lease say about painting and about carpet cleaning, a number of leases will say that the tenant is responsible or partially responsible to have the carpets cleaned. Painting, many leases have something in them that says if a tenant lives there more than 2 years or something like that, then the tenant is not responsible for painting.

Many leases say leave it as you found it. Nice, but not possible, so the term normal wear and tear is very important

Moving out and getting your deposit back 

When you move out, you should clean as best as you can.

Once you have moved out, you should try to do a final walkthrough with the landlord. Noting everything he thinks is wrong or damage and getting that in writing and signed

When you move out, give the former landlord your forwarding address.

Most states have statutes about getting your security deposit back in a specified amount of time. Usually the landlord has 30 days (or 60 days if stated in the lease) to give you back your deposit or an accounting of what portion of the deposit they used for damages. If after that time period, you didn’t receive anything, the landlord forfeits his right to any of the deposit. Now that is hard to read because it could just mean that the burden of proof is now on the landlord and not the tenant.

Normal wear and tear.

There is something called normal wear and tear and some landlords ignore this, they sometimes will charge a former tenant for painting and brand new carpeting for reasons that are simply normal wear and tear.

For example living in a place for 5 years and the carpeting is worn in spots is normal wear and tear.

If the landlord has to replace the carpet or paint because of your fault, what the landlord can charge you for that, is prorated for the age of the old carpet or paint. That has to do with the useful average life of carpet or paint.

If the landlord doesn’t send you anything within the specified time frame, you then need to send the landlord a letter stating this and that you intend to sue. In many states you can sue for double or triple damages for a wrongfully withheld security deposit, but you have to let the landlord know a certain number of days before you sue, hopefully to rectify the situation first.

If the landlord sent you a letter in the specified amount of time accounting for what the deposit was used for and you don’t agree, then you do the same as above, explaining why you don’t agree and you have the right to sue.

Sam Montana © 26 November 2008

Helpful web pages and books.


American Tenant: Everything you need to know about your rights as a tenant by Trevor Rhodes.

Tenant’s Legal Guide by Janet Portman.

And several books about small claims and tenant landlord disputes by Nolo Press


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Comments (2)

You are exactly correct about the initial and final walk-throughs. When it's in writing, there can be no dispute. Depending on how well you take care of your rental unit and how long you stay there, you can almost always get the entire amount refunded.

Great advice. We've moved many times, and always resolved to do the initial walk-through with a camera and list of damages, but have never actually done it. Most people don't do this because it would feel awkward, but live to regret it. Thanks for the information in this article-I had no idea about a lot of the legal rights a tenant has when it comes to the security deposit.