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All About Security Deposits

When you first sign a lease for an apartment, it is customary for the landlord to collect your first month’s rent and a security deposit.  The deposit is usually the same amount as a month’s rent. What does the security deposit cover?  Is it a refundable security deposit?

A security deposit protects the landlord in the event that there is damage to the unit that you are renting or if you fall behind in the rent. In many states, a landlord is required to keep the security deposit in an interest bearing account.


Once you have paid a security deposit, you should receive a receipt which details the following:

  1. The amount paid and the date
  2. The name of the person who received the payment
  3. The intended use of the deposit
  4. The name of the landlord if received by an agent or property manager
  5. The signature of the agent or landlord.

The tenant should agree with the landlord or agent on the condition of the premises at the time that the deposit is paid.  Usually there is a written statement of the condition.  

Getting Your Security Deposit Back

It’s important for you to plan for getting your security deposit returned at the end of the lease.  Follow these steps to ensure that you are entitled to the deposit, and to know what to expect.

1.  Give your landlord sufficient notice.

If you are in a month to month rental, you will have to provide your landlord notice, usually 30 days, that you are moving.  For an annual lease, you will also need to inform your landlord that you do not intend to renew the lease and are moving. If you are breaking the lease, it helps to find a new tenant, as your landlord will have the right to keep your security deposit against the rent owed.

2.  Plan your move out.

Work with your landlord to ensure that you both understand what is necessary for cleaning the space and what is expected.  You want to leave the place in broom clean condition, but you don’t want to overclean or under clean.

3.  Leave the place in good shape.

Attend to any repairs, report any problems requiring maintenance, and thoroughly clean up any damage caused by you or your pets.  Be sure that garbage and rubbish are removed.

4.  Ask if you can be present when the landlord inspects the unit.

If you can be there for the final inspection, it gives you an opportunity to know if there are any problems or things you need to fix.  Some states require that the tenant be given the opportunity to be present.

5.  Document your repairs and cleaning.

Take pictures and videos, and keep receipts.  For example, if you have paid for carpet cleaning as part of your move, take pictures of the carpet and keep receipts in the event that the landlord charges you for another carpet cleaning.  

When must a landlord return the security deposit?

Landlords are usually allowed per state laws to hold security deposits against non-payment of rent, to cover damages not caused by ordinary wear and tear, and cleaning the premises.  Most states have a deadline of two or three weeks after you move out for the landlord to send you an itemized statement of charges against the deposit, and the remainder of the money, including interest.

By Michael James

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