Your landlord must give you a security deposit refund—or a detailed reason why
Nervous about asking for your security deposit refund at the end of your lease? You don’t need to be. If you’ve taken good care of your place, your security deposit should be coming back to you in full. Here’s how to get your security deposit refund:
When your security deposit should be returned
Most states require landlords to return your security deposit within 30 days of moving out, but check your lease for the timeframe to be sure. Your landlord shouldn’t need any extra time to gather up the funds; generally, they have to keep security deposits in a bank account that is separate from their business bank account. (It might even be in an interest-bearing account. In some states, but not all, you are entitled to those earnings when the security deposit is returned, so check with your local housing authority to see what the rules are where you live.)
What can be deducted from your security deposit
Your landlord can deduct any unpaid rent and the costs of damage repair from your security deposit. If there is damage, the landlord must give you a detailed list of all the needed repairs and evidence of what it cost to do the repairs (copies of bills or receipts).
1. Fill out an apartment rental inspection checklist.
Getting your security deposit back starts the day you move in. Make sure to fill out the move-in checklist your landlord provides for you or make a list of your own the covers all of the built-in features of your apartment.
Take pictures or videos of your apartment as soon as you can and email the files to your landlord the same day. This way, you’ll both have digital and time-stamped documentation of the property’s condition when you first rented the apartment.
2. Read your lease carefully.
Following the rules for moving out of your apartment is important if you want your security deposit refund. Sometimes a lease will automatically extend past its expiration date. If it does, you’ll have to give your landlord notice—most likely 30 days—or you could be seen as breaking your lease. This could be grounds for losing your security deposit. If your lease is month-to-month, you’ll also need to give written notice.
3. Learn local landlord tenant laws about security deposits.
Landlords should abide by local laws and statutes, and a little research on renters rights can make a big difference. For example, if you live in Alabama, your security deposit is limited to one month’s rent (except for extra deposits for things like pets). Then, the landlord has to return your deposit 60 days after your lease expires. If you live in Montana, there’s no statutory limit to the deposit, and you get your money back in 30 days—or 10 days if nothing was deducted. In Nevada, a security deposit can be up to three months of rent and then landlords have 30 days to return it.
4. Organize and reassemble your place.
When it’s time to move out, go back to those photos you took when you moved in. Spend some time putting the property back in its original condition. If you painted, ask your landlord for the name of the original paint color so they know you’re making the effort to get it right. (It’ll also give your landlord the chance to tell you if they’re planning to have the place repainted themselves.) Fix any loose hinges on cabinets and doors. Deep clean carpets and floors. Scrub the bathrooms and kitchen—don’t forget the stove and refrigerator.
5. Document the place on move-out day.
Just as you documented move-in, do the same at the other end. Take photos of every room and surface and, again, send them via email for that all-important time and date stamp.
You can request a final apartment walk-through, too. Ask your landlord to inspect the place along with you after you do your big clean up. Landlords aren’t required to do this, and they may want to wait until you’re gone to inspect the property on their own, but it’s worth the ask.
6. Give your landlord your forwarding address.
It’s so simple that it’s easy to forget: your landlord needs to know where to send your security deposit. Be sure to leave a forwarding address or any instructions necessary for a direct deposit.
7. If you get resistance on your security deposit refund, take action.
If you did everything right and your landlord refuses to hand over your security deposit or holds back money, you can write a certified letter. In it, outline your reasons for why you should get more or all of your security deposit refund—including the landlord tenant laws that say you must. Include your before and after photos as evidence if you have them.
The letter might be enough to sway your landlord because the next escalation might be small claims court. But if it doesn’t, you can file a claim and pursue that legal action.
Another issue the can come up at the end of your lease? Prorated rent. If you’re moving out any day other than the last day of the month, you may not owe for the full month. Here’s everything you need to know about prorated rent.