How to get your full security deposit back

By 

Lighthouse

Updated

June 23, 2022

How to get your full security deposit back

So, you've just dropped a month's worth of rent on your security deposit. That's a big chunk of change, so you probably don't want to lose it when you move out. 

Don't fret though! We're here to give you tips on how to get your full security deposit back from your landlord once you move out. These are all fairly straightforward steps so let's get started. 😁

Here's an overview of the tips we'll be discussing. We also give some key tips throughout the article, so stick around to find out what those are. 

Tip 1: Take pictures when you move in 

Tip 2: Read your lease thoroughly

Tip 3: Record any modifications  

Tip 4: Recognize your rights 

Tip 5: Fix up and deep clean your home

Tip 6: Leave the unit in its original condition

Tip 7: Take pictures when you move out

Tip 8: Build a good relationship with your landlord

Tip 9: Give your landlord your forwarding address 

Let's get into it! 😉

Tip 1: Take pictures when you move in 

In all the fun and excitement, it’s easy to forget this step. Before moving any boxes into your home, take photos and videos of the unit! It’s important to have physical evidence of the original condition of the apartment. 

Why would you need that sort of proof, though? If your home has any damage or defects before you move in, the photos and videos record that. 

A broken light fixture? A plug socket that doesn’t work? Get evidence of it all! 

We would also suggest making a list of whatever defects you find. Once to take your pictures and make a list, email or text them to your landlord. As long as you can prove that you notified them of the damage, you should be good to go!

All these measures ensure that your landlord doesn't blame you for the damage once you move out. If you can't prove that you got the apartment like that, it turns into a he-said-she-said situation. 

✍️ KEY TIP! Keep backups of all your proof, and make sure it's all timestamped. On top of that, your landlord must acknowledge the email or text. 

Tip 2: Read your lease thoroughly

We’ll keep saying this until we’re blue in the face. Please read through your lease (we promise it has valuable information)! 😜 

The details in your lease will let you know what your responsibilities are. It'll highlight the rules you should follow to get your full security deposit back. Your lease should define what counts as normal wear-and-tear and the obligations you have as a tenant. 

On top of this, it will also state how much notice you need to give before moving out. Many landlords require at least 30-45 days (although it should be clearly stated in your lease). 

Your move-out notice will play a decisive role in your security deposit. If not given, you could risk losing that money. So, take this step seriously!

Tip 3: Record any modifications

We don't blame you for wanting to modify or upgrade your place. 

I decided to redo the kitchen floors in my rental unit. They were from the 50s, an AWFUL green color, and you could tell they hadn't been properly cleaned in the last decade. 😂 

Before modifying anything throughout my apartment, I got approval from my landlord. If you get the same idea, you also have to ask your landlord (unless you want to forgo your security deposit). If you get the green light to make upgrades, firstly, make sure it's in writing. Secondly, record and detail all the modifications you've done. 

✍️ KEY TIP! When talking to your landlord about potential upgrades, ask if they're also willing to pay. You'll find that some of them will partially or fully cover the cost! 

Tip 4: Recognize your rights

Unfortunately, some landlords don't have your best interest at heart. They'll illegally withhold your security deposit for no acceptable reason. 😓

If you find yourself in this situation, the landlord can be held accountable. Firstly, they HAVE to give all their tenants a valid reason for keeping a security payment. This should come in the form of a security deposit return letter. It’s an official document that states how much of the deposit is being returned (if any) to the tenant. If there are deductions, the letter will itemize said costs. 

Different states have their own unique laws on the matter. Despite this, in most cases, you can fight for your rights. 

As an example, we'll refer to the Texan law for refunds on security deposits. It states that a landlord must send a security deposit return letter to the tenant within 30 days of moving out. If this isn't done and they’ve kept your money, you can sue. 

Many states also handle small claims cases through justice courts. It's a lot less complicated as these suits don't involve attorneys. You won't need to spend thousands of dollars on a lawyer!

Tip 5: Fix up and deep clean your home 

This one is pretty straightforward. You'll want to leave your apartment exactly the way it was before you moved in (hopefully, it was clean). 😅 Take some time to give your apartment a good deep cleaning.

Cover up any nail holes, remove stains, and scrub off those scuff marks. If you don't have time to clean your apartment, consider hiring a cleaning company. When the apartment is spotless, landlords are more likely to give your entire security deposit back.

✍️ KEY TIP! You could ask your landlord to do a walkthrough with you before you move out. They'll point out things that might need extra care. A good tip to keep in mind is that your apartment should be usable and move-in ready for the next tenant. 

Tip 6: Leave your unit in its original condition

We're going to play the devil's advocate for a second here. It might be better to leave your apartment untouched if you're only planning on living in it for a short period. We're talking no nails in the walls, no home DIY projects or upgrades, no painting the walls a snazzy blue color. 

Apart from having to spend time undoing all your projects at the end of your tenancy, it'll also cost you. In the rush of packing and moving, it's easy to forget to fix something as well. 

✍️ KEY TIP! If you really want to make your apartment your "own", opt for command strips instead of nailing things to the wall. Similarly, you can use stick-and-peel wallpaper in your rental unit. It easily peels off and doesn't damage walls! 🥳️

Tip 7: Take pictures when you move out

Similar to when you move in, take pictures on your way out! This prevents you from getting blamed for something you didn't cause. 

If you live with roommates, this can also prevent any future hassle. Say your roommate left their room a mess, but yours was spotless. At least you can get your part of the security deposit back in full. Just make sure to take pictures of your room and how you left the place. Again, double-check that all your photo files have timestamps. Send them to your landlord right after you move out. 💪

Tip 8: Build a relationship with your landlord 

Kind of a no-brainer, but don't forget to be a good tenant. Being friendly and respectful will foster a good rapport with your landlord. That means being overall neat and not hosting massive parties every night. 😜 

As such, this increases the chances of landlords giving back your security deposit. They'll be much more lenient. That also means they'll be less inclined to nitpick throughout their final walkthrough. 

Tip 9: Give your landlord a forwarding address

The million-dollar question: how long does it take to get a security deposit back? You can expect to receive your security deposit within 30 days of moving out. Despite this, many states require management to return the deposit in 15 days or less. 

However, to do so, landlords need your forwarding address! There's no direct deposit or cash option when refunding your money. They'll usually only refund you via check, hence why they need an address. 

Provide an accurate forwarding address, and it'll be smooth sailing from there! If you forget to give your landlord the correct details, you can always call or send them an email. 

TL;DR

Let’s give you the rundown on how to get your security deposit back. Start by taking pictures or videos of the unit before you move in. Keep the unit clean and damage-free throughout your tenancy. When you decide to move out, give your landlord an official Notice to Vacate Letter. If you don’t, you could entirely lose your security deposit. On your move-out day, deliver the apartment in pristine condition. That means no holes in the walls, paint over anything you’ve changed, and fix any damage to the unit. Again, take pictures or videos of the way you left your apartment. If you have a good relationship with your landlord and follow the above, you should have no problems! You can expect to receive your deposit back within 30 days of moving out. You can sue your landlord for not returning a security deposit if they give you an invalid reason for doing so. All tenants have rights, and landlords need to follow the proper state laws! 😤

Conclusion 

We hope you learned some new tips on how to get your security deposit back in full! Follow us on our social handles (find them down below), if you’d like to check out more content! 

At Lighthouse, our goal is to make your renting process as easy as possible. If you’re on the hunt for an apartment, our team of Lightkeepers can help you with your rental search! Check our website here if you’d like to work with one of our free team members and get cash back on rent! 🤑

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