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8 Ways to Make Sure You Definitely See Your Security Deposit Again

There may be no guarantee you’ll get your security deposit back when you vacate your rental, but these tips will make it easier to see your deposit returned to you.

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How to Get Your Security Deposit Money Back After Vacating a Rental Property

Maybe it’s your first rental; maybe you’ve rented many places over the years and have always been lucky, getting your security deposit back in full, without having to worry about it. Either way, you should probably pay attention to the following tips. All it takes is one sketchy landlord or one honest dispute to ruin your track record and maybe more.

Making sure you get your rental security deposit back is neither rocket science, nor something that should just be left to chance. With a little advance planning, a little due-diligence, some good move-out practices, and willingness to seek legal recourse if necessary, your security deposit should be all but guaranteed. Here’s how to ensure you get your money back when you vacate your rental.

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1: Advance Planning — Read the Lease

Before you sign any rental lease, pay a deposit, or move in, make sure you read your lease – and literally read the whole thing. It’s a legal document, an agreement you’re bound by, so make sure you know what you’re agreeing to.

2: Advance Planning — Perform a Pre-Move-In Inspection

Before you move in or bring a single item into your house (and preferably before you sign anything or pay any deposits), walk through the house with a pre-move-in inspection checklist. You may want to rent the place regardless of pre-existing damages, but you shouldn’t have to pay for them when you vacate. Bonus points for getting the landlord to sign the completed checklist.

3: Advance Planning — Take Pictures

This is part two of your inspection. Document everything with your phone or camera. Even if things are in great shape, it costs you nothing but a few minutes of your time to document it all. Better to have records and not need them, than the opposite when it’s too late.

4: Due-Diligence — Honor the Lease Agreement

Once you’ve moved in, always abide by the terms of your lease. Sometimes breaking a lease is inevitable because of work or personal issues, but if you rented a place that doesn’t allow smoking or pets, then don’t smoke inside or bring home a stray cat, for example.

5: Due-Diligence — Maintain Your Home

This is one that gets many people into trouble. Just because you don’t own the place doesn’t mean that you don’t have any obligation for its upkeep. Usually your responsibilities come down to report and repair in some form. To be on the safe side, just make sure you know the landlord/tenant laws in your state or county.

6: Move Out Best Practices — Clean and Repair

When it’s time to vacate, clean the place to at least the same condition it was in when you moved in. In fact, you’re best off returning it to as close to the same condition it was in as possible. You may love the paint you applied or the shelf paper you put in, but your landlord can typically charge you to repaint everything back to rental white and for removing any “improvements” you thought you needed.

The man paints the walls and the ceiling in gray on his balcony in the backlight. Painting and repair in the room.

7: Best Practice — Take Pictures (Again)

Documentation is your best weapon when it comes to ensuring the return of your security deposit. Go back through your place, once everything is packed and removed, cleaned and restored, and document everything with pictures all over again.

8: Best Practice — Post-Move Inspection

Take the move-in inspection you filled out and walk the premises with your landlord or property manager once you’ve completely moved out and cleaned and documented everything. Many disputes over conditions that land in court can be avoided (along with the time, expense, and hassle they come with) by proving to your landlord that things are exactly the same as they were right there while you’re walking the property with them.

When Legal Action Becomes Necessary

Keep all of your records (and photos) at least until you receive your full deposit. You may need them to use as persuasion with your landlord, or you made need them to win a court case if it comes to that. In the end, know that you have legal recourse, pretty much regardless of where you live.

Though laws vary from state to state and city to city, there are tenant advocacy groups almost everywhere that can help you get your money back if you’ve protected yourself with the steps outlined above.

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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.

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