Tricks and Tips for Renters: How to Get Your Security Deposit Back from Your Apartment Landlord

It may sound like I am a pessimist, but there are some things that I know won't go right the first time around. I think that your social security disability claim is going to be denied the first time around. I think the insurance company is going to try to find any reason to deny your claim. And I just know that your landlord is not going to return your security deposit at the end of your lease.

I've only lived in two apartments, but in both of the cases, the landlord kept the security deposit. And in both of those cases, I was able to get my security deposit back. Here are some Millionaire Tips on how you can get your security deposit back too.

Getting your security deposit when you lease an apartment can be difficult, but it is not impossible.
Getting your security deposit when you lease an apartment can be difficult, but it is not impossible. | Source

Purpose of a Security Deposit

The security deposit is there so that if you damage the property during your stay, the landlord has some money with which to repair the property. It can also be used to pay back rent and fees.

If you can return the property in the same state it was when you got it, and have been making timely rental payments, the landlord is required to return the security deposit. There is also some regular expected wear and tear that can happen when you live in the property, although what is regular and expected is often debated between tenant and landlord. Here is a chart of some problems, to give you an idea of what is reasonable and what is excessive. There are very strict laws about security deposits, but they vary by municipality, so you will want to check with your city, county, or state officials to get proper information about your area.

Moving in Tips to Get Your Security Deposit Back

You are not responsible for any problems that already exist in the apartment before you move in. Make sure you document these problems. Before you move into your new apartment, you should look around and take some photos of the problem areas in the apartment, and make a list of the issues. Some landlords will ask you to do this, but even if they don't, it is a good idea, since you will be able to prove that the issue happened before you moved in.

As a bonus, you can even ask your landlord to correct some of these issues before you move in, so you can have a pleasant residence that doesn't have these annoying problems.

Living Tips on Getting Your Security Deposit Back

During your stay in the apartment, treat the property with respect. The landlord is letting you stay on his property, and you should treat it as if you were a guest on the property. If you tear a hole in the wall or break a window, it is your responsibility to fix it. It isn't fair for you to expect your landlord to fix something because you weren't careful, or decided to take your anger out on your apartment. By treating the property with respect, you will save yourself a great deal of money.

If something gets broken or you notice an issue, be sure to let your landlord know so he can correct it before it turns into an even bigger problem. The fewer problems in your apartment when you move out, the more likely you are to be able to get your security deposit back.

By paying your rent timely and staying on good terms with your landlord, he may be willing to overlook some small damage you have caused during your stay, and may be more willing to return your security deposit.

Moving Out

Most municipalities will not let you use the security deposit as last month's rent, and I do not recommend it. When you follow your part of the contract correctly, you are more likely to get support from your landlord and the law.

Be sure to give proper notice to your landlord, so he has time to find a new tenant, and can make plans to adjust his financial situation without your future rent payment. The nicer you are to your landlord at this time, the less likely you will have issues with your security deposit due to personality conflicts.

When you move out, be sure to take all of your belongings, and make the effort to clean the place, especially if you have stains or any gunk that has built up. Most municipalities will not require that you clean the place before you move, but it is a good gesture that will build up some good will.

Make sure that you give your landlord the keys to your apartment. Give him your new address, so he can return the security deposit to you, or provide you with an itemization of costs that keep you from getting the security deposit back.

An apartment over an office building.
An apartment over an office building. | Source

Contesting the Security Deposit

Most municipalities have a short window in which you should get your security deposit back - usually one or two weeks. If you don't get your deposit or itemization by then, call the landlord. If you disagree with the itemization, call the landlord. If you truly believe that you are not to blame for the items that are on the itemization, then call and politely state your case.

Do not get hostile or angry. The first time I call someone to state any case, I assume that she is not aware of the facts, and that by simply informing her of my side of the story, she may be willing to change her mind.

Most people want to avoid a confrontation and/or negative publicity, and will likely return your money, especially since they know you are in the right.

I was able to get my security deposit back for both of my apartments, even after they refused at first, by simply talking to the landlords and stating my case. In both cases, they cited pre-existing issues, and once I told them that the apartment came that way, they returned my deposit. I didn't have pictures to prove it, but I didn't need them.

If, after talking to the landlord calmly, you still do not get your security deposit back, and still feel that you are entitled to it, you can take your landlord to small claims court to get it back. There are government agencies that will even help you understand the laws, and maybe even fight for you if they believe you are in the right, so you don't have to do it alone. With the photos you have already taken when you moved in, you will have some evidence to back up your case.

Getting Your Security Deposit Back

By treating your landlord and your apartment respectfully, you are likely to return your apartment back to your landlord in the same condition you got it, and are more likely to get your security deposit back. Sometimes this involves a phone call with a landlord, or a court case. There is no reason to let your landlord keep money that rightfully belongs to you.

© 2012 Shasta Matova

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Comments 11 comments

Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 3 years ago from USA Author

Good for you Dolores, for being persistent in getting your security deposit back. I bet he was just looking for an excuse to keep your money.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 3 years ago from East Coast, United States

We rented a house for 2 years, and the landlord, at first, refused to return our deposit, despite the fact we left the place clean as a whistle. He claimed that we stole a dishwasher. Yet there had never been one in the first place. We finally got it back after several phone calls. The guy was a bit of a boozer


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

I get the feeling that landlords will try to get away with whatever they can. I've read another hub that told people to clean the place and pay for painting, and most laws place the responsibility of that on the landlord. If nobody was living there, the dust would still have to be swept and the sun would still fade the paint.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

That's an interesting comment that alocsin made...one of the apartments I lived in was in CA and no, I did not get my s.d. back from them either. Strict laws? Apparantly, the apartment management I rented from did not adhere to them.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you Denise. I'm sorry you didn't get your security deposit back in any of your rentals. I think most landlords keep it as a matter of course until you ask for it. Sometimes a phone call is all it takes.

alocsin - I'm glad you haven't had any problems. Our state, Ohio, and municipalities has strict laws as well, but that doesn't keep landlords from keeping it until the tenant asks for it. I guess they figure if the tenant doesn't ask for it, they aren't likely to sue or contact the authorities. If the tenant does ask, they will give it back, because that tenant is more likely to make a fuss.

Thank you both for your comments and votes.


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

Sensible advice. In California, we have strict laws about security deposits. Never had a problem getting mine returned promptly. Voting this Up and Useful.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 4 years ago from North Carolina

Very useful information and I followed the sidebar to Daisy's hub as well.

I've rented many times-houses and apartments in four different states and not ONCE did I ever recieve my security deposit. Mind you, I did not live there with pets tearing up the place or smoking in there place...this was all as you state: normal wear and tear, yet denied. Usually, by the time everything is wrapped up I am already in another state and there is no 'going back' to quibble about it. I have gotten to the point where I just expect that it is 'their' money from the get go.

Great hub. Voted up and interesting/useful.


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you Alissa. I think most landlords prefer that you forget that you ever paid a security deposit, or that you are entitled to get it back. Good for you for getting part of the money back anyway.


alissaroberts profile image

alissaroberts 4 years ago from Normandy, TN

Very useful tips for renters! I only had problems once moving out of our duplex. The landlord acted shocked when we asked for our deposit back. I think he was so use to finding his property trashed that he never had to deal with giving money back. After finding our duplex in perfect condition and several arguments, he finally returned $300 of the $500 deposit. Tired of arguing I finally took the money. I wish that we had taken pics before we moved in to further prove my points and get all of our money back. Oh well, live and learn :) Great hub - voted up and useful!


Millionaire Tips profile image

Millionaire Tips 4 years ago from USA Author

Thank you alipuckett for your comment and vote. I am sure that many renters don't bother with trying to get the security deposit back, considering it a cost of renting. This is probably why most landlords will keep the money at first until you ask for it.


alipuckett profile image

alipuckett 4 years ago

Great advice! I'm a decent tenant, yet in every apartment I've ever had (5 of them), the landlord has tried to weasel out of returning my security deposit. I had to hire a lawyer to get my last one back, but I did eventually get the money. Taking photos and making a list of issues that exist *before* you move in is the best way to ensure the safety of your deposit. Very good hub! Voted up.

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