How To – Getting Your Security Deposit Back

  • Property rental is a delicate relationship that comes in many shapes and sizes. Typically there is not a lot of communication between renter and rentee unless you’re moving in or moving out. If your property manager is not communicating well or you’re worried about getting that security deposit back, here’s a little run down on what you should know and do.

    1. Know Your Rights To Know You’re Right
    The laws covering tenancy agreements are state or provincial laws so there’s no hard and fast rules. But typically these are designed to protect your rights as a tenant. For example - In some states/provinces, the landlord cannot request more than half one month’s rent as a security deposit. Being asked for more might be a sign that your landlord doesn’t know your rights either. It’s very important to know the difference between damage and normal wear-and-tear. Portions of your security deposit can only be withheld to repair major damage: broken fixtures, holes in walls, scratched hardwood - not things like carpet or paint that is already more than a year or two old.

    2. Protect Yourself With Documentation
    Take pictures of each room and any particulars of wear-and-tear or real damage. When you do your walkthrough, be sure that you fill out a condition form. If your landlord doesn’t have one then make your own. You can find examples online. When you do the final move-out inspection, you will have documented proof to back you up. Pointing fingers and making emotional claims can get messy way too quickly - stick to the facts.

    3. Keep It Clean
    The simplest way to be sure that you get your deposit back is to be a good, clean, honest tenant. You won’t have firm ground to stand on if your tenancy has been a string of damage claims or complaints. The better you treat your pad, the better your landlord will treat you. What can typically slip through the cracks are simple maintenance items. Be good about letting your landlord know about issues early and often. A small water leak is a good example of a nasty problem that often doesn’t look bad to start and could already be causing hidden problems before you even see it. Indeed, you can be held responsible if a whole wall needs repairing because you didn’t speak up. Do a good job on your move-out cleaning. You’ve heard of “staging” a home for sale - well, a proper clean is a good way to sell your place back to your landlord. This will avoid confusion between dirty and damaged. And it’s your duty in the great circle of life that is the renter’s world.

    4. Walkthrough
    After moving out, you’ll want to do a final move-out inspection/walkthrough with your landlord. Being there for this process ensures you can be part of the dialogue and are treated fairly. Your documentation may come in handy here or especially if things go any further. Be sure you provide your new address and current contact info when handing in your keys. You don’t want to lose out because they couldn’t find you. Be sure to have theirs as well.

    5. It’s often not All-Or-Nothing
    If after steps 1 through 4 you find yourself on the hook for some damage, consider their claim. Be realistic about damage vs wear-and-tear: holes from nails from hung pictures are wear and tear - holes from playing house-golf are damage. Review the following and see what you can do to get back part, if not all, of your deposit.

    • Have a clear conversation with your landlord about damage vs wear-and-tear on the items in question
    • Request an itemized list of the withheld amounts and receipts for the relevant repairs
    • Keep documentation of any conversations/exchanges between you and your landlord regarding the withheld funds
    • Communicate respectfully. Don’t let things get emotional and don’t feel like you have to defend your ego - focus on the facts and the stuff - what’s the reality and where can we go from here.

    Hopefully you always get your deposits back. We know moving is stressful, so we wish you all the best.

    Thanks for reading! Here’s to happy moving!

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