When you rent an apartment or home, landlords typically ask for the first month's rent in advance and a security deposit. The deposit provides your landlord with a financial cushion to cover any repairs the rental property requires -- outside of normal wear and tear -- after you move. If you leave the property clean and in good repair, the landlord must return your money.
After you successfully apply for a rental, the landlord usually schedules an additional meeting at the property for the signing of the lease and the acceptance of an initial rent payment and additional charges. If multiple fees are paid to the landlord, the lease needs to specify each charge, such as prepaid rent, security deposits and key fees, by name and amount. This helps prevent confusion about the total amount of your deposit. The landlord may also use the lease to specify the return process for the deposit or to record the condition of the property at the beginning of your lease.
The return of your rental deposit hinges on the condition of the property when you leave. This means you should take careful note of any existing issues before signing your lease. When the lease already contains a list of flaws in the unit, such as a faded section of flooring or a closet without a door, verify that these are the only problems before signing the lease. If the lease does not contain conditional notes, create your own list of existing issues for the landlord to sign or take dated photographs of the space prior to moving in your belongings.
Losing a Security Deposit
To ensure that you get your security deposit back in full, you should do all you can to avoid excessive wear and tear. Some common examples of excessive wear include stained or ripped carpeting, chipped woodwork, broken windows and damage to the unit's walls. If you want the deposit back, fix any problems before scheduling a walk-through with the landlord or vacating the property. To reclaim your deposit, you must also notify the landlord when an issue with the apartment needs his attention. For example, if a leaky water pipe causes damage to your bathroom floor over an extended period of time because you did not report the problem, he may use your deposit to fix the floor and attempt to bill you for any additional costs.
Security Deposit Returns
The laws of each state specify the maximum security deposit a landlord can hold, such as two months' rent, as well as a time limit for the return of the funds. If your deposit is not returned within this time frame, a list of itemized deductions must be provided specifying costs the landlord incurred to clean an apartment left dirty or to repair damage caused during your lease period. When the landlord keeps your deposit without providing a reason, consider filing a lawsuit in small claims courts to regain your funds.
Ashley Mott has 12 years of small business management experience and a BSBA in accounting from Columbia. She is a full-time government and public safety reporter for Gannett.