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How to Get Your Deposit Back When You Move

January 18th, 2019 - 4:48 PM

Tips for getting a rental deposit back from your landlord 

The last time you thought about your security deposit was probably when you moved into your apartment or rent house. Now that it’s time to move out, you may be wondering whether or not you’ll see that money again. Before contacting the landlord, make sure you understand what security deposits are used for, what your renter’s rights are and what needs to be done to get the refund back in full. 

Keys and one-hundred dollar bills with a lease agreement

Understanding a security deposit 

A security deposit is an amount of money new residents pay their landlord to secure a lease. It serves as insurance to ensure property owners have a financial fallback if a tenant: 

  • Doesn’t pay a month’s rent/utilities 
  • Terminates the lease early or stays beyond the contracted date 
  • Doesn’t clean the property when moving 
  • Damages the property (does not include normal wear and tear) 
  • Moves without giving a legal notice 
  • Is legally evicted 

Landlords can’t use this money for anything else, and once the lease is up, they must return the full deposit or provide an itemized statement explaining any deductions. Knowing the purpose of a rental deposit can help tenants understand their rights to this money when they leave. 

Know the laws     

Though security deposit laws vary by state and location, one thing is certain: Landlords can’t withhold a deposit without a valid reason. Before trying to retrieve a security deposit, read about the landlord and tenant laws in your location. This way you’ll know what to do, what to expect and if anything up front isn’t handled fairly. 

For example, in the state of Washington, landlords can’t use the deposit to refurbish normal wear and tear like chipped or faded paint and worn-out flooring. However, the money can be used to fix damaged doors or windows. And if the tenant leaves the unit in top-notch condition and receives a full refund, both the resident and owner should sign a legal document as proof. 

Five tips for getting a rental deposit returned 

As soon as you know you’re moving, follow these steps to help get your security deposit refund: 

Review the lease 

The rental agreement should detail how far in advance to tell the landlord. Typically, a notice is required 30-60 days ahead of time, but it’s best to check. Leaving sooner or staying longer can violate the contract and may mean losing the deposit. The lease should also discuss the terms and conditions for getting the payment back, including how long the owner has to refund it and what you must do in the move-out process to get it back. 

Notify the landlord 

Giving your landlord a notice is a simple task. Mail them a handwritten note or send them an email or text. Either way, keep a record of it so that if there’s any confusion, there’s proof. Not giving proper notice could mean owing extra rent and forfeiting the deposit. 

Clean and make small repairs 

A clean and undamaged apartment or rental home can make a huge impact on whether you receive a full or partial refund. The lease should cover information about what’s expected as far as cleaning and repairs go, or you can always ask the landlord. Small repairs may include things like replacing old lightbulbs, sealing holes in the wall and touching up paint. Cleaning can include simple chores like vacuuming, mopping, dusting fans and blinds, and cleaning the bathrooms and appliances. Get more tips in this apartment cleaning post

Attend the final inspection 

A final walkthrough is when the landlord inspects the property for damages or extreme uncleanliness, and is a normal part of the move-out process. It’s a good idea to attend the walkthrough so that you can fix or clean anything the landlord points out that you may have missed. Being there will also help ensure you’re both on the same page about everything. Ask about getting a signed, legal document stating the condition of the rental was good at the time of move out.  

Leave a forwarding address

While returning the keys, be sure to leave a forwarding address, so the landlord knows where to send the deposit. Check in with the owner if you haven’t heard from them or received payment in 30 days. After receiving the money and statement, review it for accuracy, making sure to get an itemized list if there are deductions. 

What if I split the deposit with a roommate?  

If you have a roommate and you’re the only one leaving, getting your part of the deposit back can be a little tricky. While you can try working something out with the landlord, legally they don’t have to return the money until all tenants leave. In this situation, it’s best to find a solution with your roommate. Some options include them paying you your half and keeping the deposit once they move out, or if a new roommate is moving in, the new person can pay back your half as their contribution to the deposit. 

What happens if I don’t get my deposit back?  

Generally, a landlord must return a deposit within 30 days, but timelines can differ depending on the location (check the lease for more details). If you don’t receive a refund, send the landlord a deposit demand letter. If that still doesn’t work, consider contacting an attorney who can help direct your next steps.  

Questions? 

Questions about getting a rental deposit refund? Leave a comment below, and we’ll answer shortly.

Suggested reading: What you need to know about apartment moving.