College Renting: How to Get Your Deposit Back

by Ben SanfordMarch 29, 2017

Getting Your Hard Earned Money Back

Going off to college, making new friends, finding your classes, dealing with the financial aid office — all of it can be a bit overwhelming and a little intimidating. And, as much as you hear that everyone goes through it, sometimes you need the security of a little reassurance.

This goes double for your first dealings with either campus housing, or with independent landlords. When you deal with either entity, one of the first things you may want to know is this: how can I make sure that I’m going to get back 100% of this rather large deposit check I’m signing? Here are some suggestions.
tips for getting your rental deposit back

Read Your Lease

First of all, read your lease, and read it before you sign it. Make sure you understand everything in it, or ask questions until you do. Your lease is a legally binding document and it is very important that you know what you’re signing up for.

Your lease should include everything you need to know to get your deposit back when it’s time to move out. But here are some other suggestions to help you make sure your lease is backed with action.
tips for getting your rental deposit back

Keep Records (and Photos) of Everything

Before you move in, walk through the apartment with your landlord, recording every cracked windowpane, carpet stain, missing light bulb, damaged set of blinds, nail hole, discolored shelf paper, rust stain, etc. Every one of them!

Take digital pictures and email them to yourself or store them in the cloud. That way, you’re protected. Likewise, keep records of any maintenance done on the apartment and anything you may have purchased as an improvement.

Give Proper Notice

Refer to the first suggestion above: Read your lease. How much notice are you required to give under the terms of your rental agreement? Give at least that much, and give more if you can.
There’s no penalty for notifying early and most landlords will extend your stay (with plenty of notice) if you need to put off your moving date. Don’t just assume that if you have to give short notice due to extenuating circumstances, you’ll forfeit your deposit. Negotiate; it works most of the time.

Clean Like Your Parents Would

Okay, not everyone’s parents do a better job of cleaning than we do. But in most cases, your first or second year of college will not be spent in the level of clean you experienced back home in the nest.

Thankfully, when it comes time to do that really deep clean, the kind of clean that will get back 100% of your deposit (provided that it’s 100% refundable and nothing’s broken or missing that shouldn’t be), is much easier to accomplish once all your stuff is packed out and the garbage has gone to the dumpster.

Get the right cleaning chemicals, some rubber gloves, and get into it. Every scrub of the brush is money in the bank.
tips for to get your deposit back

When in Doubt Ask and Get a Record of the Answer

If possible, use email to communicate with your landlord, ask questions as they come up during your stay, and document their response. There’s nothing worse than getting in a financial dispute after you think everything is addressed and handled.

Following the simple suggestions above may not work in 100% of all college rental situations, but it will definitely work in the overwhelming majority of them.
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About The Author
Ben Sanford
Ben is a real estate agent and freelance writer. He's lived on the east coast his entire life and is just as "at home" on a snowboard as he is in the office. When not writing about local real estate markets and researching hot new tips for homeowners, he can be found working on his home renovation projects with help from his wife Melissa and their kids, Josh and Cheyenne.