September 29, 2020

New Homeowners: Get your rental deposits back!

Thinking about taking that big step to owning a home? If you're a renter, it’s important to get back as much of that rental deposit as possible, to help deal with the initial homeownership costs.

We know this is a busy time. It's best to know your area's rules ahead of time. Landlord-tenant laws vary somewhat from state to state and sometimes within regions. For best results, have an attorney review your lease terms while you're still living there. Make sure you know the rules for your city, county and state

In most states, the landlord has 30 days to justify in writing why they are withholding any portion of the deposit. Typically, he or she must provide an itemized statement of deductions within that 30-day window. Make sure to leave a forwarding address.

If you paid for water, sewer or garbage through your property management company, your landlord may be able to tap your security deposit to cover any missed bills.

Like a car rental, it’s expected you return the property in the same shape you received it. Hopefully, you had the presence of mind at move-in to take photos and request a walk-through. In terms of cleanliness, the rental should be left “broom clean,” which means as clean as when you moved in, minus reasonable wear and tear, such as faded paint or worn carpet.

If you hire a professional cleaner, rent a steam cleaner, or buy paint for the walls, maintain all invoices and receipts to provide proof.

In most cases, a landlord can deduct for damages to the property. This is different from normal wear and tear. Damages include broken doors, cracks in countertops or holes.

Did you leave anything behind? That could cost you, too. Dumping items is not cheap and the landlord can deduct reasonable fees. If you can’t move a bed or other large furniture, and you can’t dump them yourself, try selling them online or donating.

If you can, try not to move before your lease is up. In most cases, a landlord can keep all, or part, of your deposit to cover costs of finding a replacement tenant if you break your lease early.

In general, landlords may also deduct any unpaid rent. In general, the tenant cannot use the damage deposit to pay their rent without the landlord’s approval, but a landlord can deduct it for nonpayment after the tenant moves out.