If you've ever been surprised by the amount deducted from your security deposit, you're not alone. In fact, according to a Rent.com survey, one in four renters have lost their security deposit without an explanation from their landlords. That's one in four renters who expected a substantial sum of money back to help out with moving expenses but were instead left confused.
1 in 4 renters have lost their security deposit without an explanation from their landlords.
What's the secret to getting your security deposit back in full? Are landlords making unjust deductions, or are tenants missing important move-out steps? Knowing the basics on security deposit laws will go a long way when it comes to getting your full security deposit back at the end of your rental tenancy. Here are the ins and outs of what a landlord can deduct from your security deposit based on security deposit laws.
Generally speaking, landlords will want to return your full security deposit, because that means there was no damage or extra cleaning that needed to be done to the property. Damage takes time, money and energy to repair and prevents landlords from filling rental vacancies as quickly as possible. Most landlords will happily return your security deposit if you kept the rental in good condition and followed all of the terms spelled out in your lease.
Specifics as to what your landlord can legally deduct from your security deposit vary from state-to-state based on different landlord-tenant laws, but there are some general rules that apply across the board. Landlords cannot charge for normal wear and tear, but they can charge for undue damage or excessive filth. Landlords can also make deductions for unpaid rent or to cover fees related to breaking the lease agreement.
Some wear and tear is naturally going to occur as tenants occupy a space for an extended period of time. Things like minor nicks in the wall, sun-faded curtains or minimal spotting on a carpet are usually considered normal wear and tear and should not result in a deduction from your security deposit.
Renters are responsible for damage that's out of the ordinary, such as cigarette burns in curtains or carpets, large holes in the wall, rips in the carpet or urine stains from pets. This kind of excessive damage can be deducted from your security deposit as it was an expense your landlord was not planning on. Laws regarding what's considered normal wear and tear can vary, so be sure to research your state and local regulations if you and your landlord disagree on a deduction.
Many renters miss specific guidelines spelled out in their lease agreement regarding move-out expectations and security deposit deductions. Landlords will state exactly what their expectations are in the lease agreement, so make sure you understand and agree with these conditions before you sign a lease.
For example, if a tenant leaves a small collection of cleaning supplies in the cupboard under the sink, a portion of the security deposit can be deducted if the lease specified that nothing was to be left behind. At times it may not seem fair, but it's up to you to pay close attention to what's in your lease.
Keep an eye out for terms that discuss charges that aren't due to direct abuse of property. Your landlord can charge for any work required to make the property look exactly as it did before the start of your tenancy, including unauthorized painting, changed lighting fixtures or removed doors.
You may also be charged as a result of negligence. If you didn't care for an appliance properly and it requires repairs or replacement as a result, your landlord may be able to deduct this charge from your security deposit. Some landlords also automatically deduct carpet cleaning or other cleaning fees from your security deposit, which will be outlined in the lease.
Don't just forget about your lease agreement after you sign. Be aware of the terms of your lease and take care of the property throughout your tenancy — not just when you decide to move out.
If you've decided to move, the first thing you can do to ensure a good chance of receiving your full security deposit back is to give your landlord proper notice of your move out date. Make sure you give notice in accordance with your lease agreement to avoid any extra fees.
Once you've given your notice, ask your landlord if they would be willing to conduct a pre-move-out inspection with you. Request that your landlord walks through the property and examine the condition, making note of any issues that may cause a deduction from the security deposit if they aren't addressed. This way, you'll have a chance to clean or repair list items that you may have otherwise missed.
Your lease and your landlord will have specific move out instructions for you, but most often you'll benefit from giving the property a deep clean and touching up any minor damage you caused. It's always a good idea to take photos of existing damage immediately when you move in, and repeat the process when you move out so pre-existing damage isn't blamed on you.
If you find yourself in the position where you receive only a portion, or even none of your security deposit back, and are unsure why, it's important to understand your rights in relation to your local landlord-tenant laws.
In most states, your landlord is required to explain why deductions were made and needs to itemize any charges in writing. If your landlord has deducted from your security deposit without explanation, this is the first thing to ask for. This explanation can help you ensure your deposit was not erroneously deducted and also help you learn what damages you need to avoid at your next rental. If your landlord attempts to charge you an unreasonable amount for a minor issue, you may have legal grounds to fight the charge.