First, let’s cover what the security deposit is, and what can happen to it.
A security deposit is money paid by the tenant to the landlord or property manager, prior to moving into a rental, and placed to “secure” or guarantee the property will be returned in the same condition it was leased. In the event that there are damages to the property or unpaid fees or rents, the landlord can deduct the cost of the items from the security deposit prior to return.
The amount of the security deposit can vary from state to state but is oftentimes required in the amount equal to one month’s rent.
Now, before you go freaking out about potential future costs, or the unrealistic expectation that a home must be kept perfect, most lease agreements do have a provision that allows for “normal wear and tear” while occupying the property. However, we recommend that you thoroughly read and understand the allowed items in your lease agreement. If you are unclear on what is a chargeable item, please be sure to reach out to your property manager or landlord for clarification.
OK! Now you have found the perfect rental, your application was approved, and it’s time to pay all upfront rents, admin fees, and your security deposit. Below are seven tips to make sure that you receive your security deposit, IN FULL, upon vacancy of the property.
ONE – Take Notes
When you move into a property your landlord or property management company should provide you with a property condition document or “move-in sheet”. Be sure to use this to document any and all imperfections to carpets, floors, walls, fixtures, appliances, walls, doors, ceilings, etc. If something is missing, NOTE IT. If there is a paint chip or nail hole in the wall, NOTE IT. If you notice burnt-out lightbulbs or missing smoke alarm batteries, NOTE IT. And be thorough.
A best practice is to take photographs and/or videos of each room and the documented pre-existing imperfections prior to moving in your personal items. If there are any items that need immediate attention be sure to notify your property manager with a maintenance request so that the issue can be fixed for your residency and enjoyment.
Most reputable property management companies will “pre-check” your home prior to your arrival to help ensure these items are addressed, but sometimes mistakes happen. They are human. But, be sure to bring it to their attention. Your home is your responsibility during your stay.
PRO-TIP: Repeat this process after you have provided proper written notice of your residency termination.
***ALMAR Property Management policy: Check-in sheets must be returned within 48 hours of receiving keys. If a property condition report is not returned we will note that on your tenant portal and have no documentation to compare property conditions at your move out. You will likely be responsible for any and all damages or property imperfections.***
TWO – Give Proper Notice
Speaking of notice; Be sure to give your landlord or property manager notice of your intentions to vacate the property.
Your lease should clearly state the required process to terminate your agreement with the landlord. Oftentimes this process will include a 30-day written notification, prior to lease-end.
If you are terminating your lease early (or late) there may be additional fees included in the processing of the request, so be sure to make yourself fully aware of any additional charges that you may incur and be prepared to pay those fees. Failure to do so may result in your landlord deducting the contracted amount from your security deposit and possibly sending a bill when your financial responsibility exceeds that of the initial security deposit.
THREE – Pay Your Bills
This one may sound a little obvious, but too many times a tenant will vacate a property without ensuring that they read and fully understood the financial responsibility and requirements of the lease agreement.
Early termination fees, late fees, month-to-month fees, and “hold-over” fees are all things that could affect the security deposit refund amount, so be sure to understand the parameters of the agreement and be prepared to square up with your landlord prior to giving your notice.
Notify utility companies of your lease-end date so that the responsibility can be transferred out of your name and pay the final invoice for your use. Any unpaid remaining invoices from your tenancy will, most likely, be deducted from your security deposit.
If you have a circumstance that prohibits you from immediately satisfying charges associated with your lease be sure to communicate early and often with your landlord to make arrangements.
***Any unpaid fees for damages, utility bills, or lease termination fees may be submitted for collections and may affect your personal credit report or be processed through small claims court.***
FOUR – Fix It – Or Forget It
Your landlord is going to expect the property to be returned in the same or similar condition as it was leased to you. It is inevitable that at some point during your stay there will be a (hopefully) minor accident or two and something will be damaged. Whether a broken blind from a child or pet, a drawer handle comes up missing, a toilet chain deteriorates, or everyday use items (lightbulbs) expire. Be sure to address these items prior to your move-out and replace or fix any minor issues that you are aware of.
These simple tasks that may take the tenant a couple of hours to repair may save you hundreds of dollars. If a $2 lightbulb needs replacing it will likely cost the landlord 5X that amount to pay a maintenance person to purchase the lightbulb, drive to the property, and the labor charge for the replacement. Too many minor repairs will add up and quickly chip away at the amount you are expecting to be returned.
FIVE – One Man’s Treasure Is Another Man’s Trash
We know that moving can be an exhausting task. Up the stairs, down the stairs, boxing all your unnecessary items – but leaving necessities available for use, playing Tetris with the couch through the doorway, begging (or bribing) friends and family to help…it’s a lot.
Three, four, or seven trips from your current place to the next get old fast. But, be sure to collect ALL of your items from your current rental and take them with you or dispose of them appropriately. Don’t leave any items behind.
Any items, furniture, pictures, food, or trash will be just that…trash. And someone will have to be commissioned to remove these items, haul them away, and pay to dump them. And – Yep! You guessed it – that fee will be passed on to you and take place in the form of a deduction in your security deposit. So…take it with you.
SIX – Whistle While You Work
And think about all of the dollars – YOUR dollars – that will be returned to you!
The most common reason for security deposit deductions is a cleaning fee from the vacated units of previous tenants. We know…it can be a lot of work. I mean, you just finished the most stressful move of your life. And now you have to CLEAN? The answer is YES (if you want your full deposit back).
Carpets, kitchens, bathrooms, refrigerators, ovens, floors, walls, ceiling fans, vents, baseboards, doors, and windows – all need to be deep cleaned when you move out. And, it’s cheaper for you to do it, trust us.
Be sure to also take the time to schedule a carpet cleaner (or rent one yourself) when you move and forward a copy of the receipt to your landlord or property manager. This will help alleviate unnecessary charges to your ledger and leave the home in the expected condition, per your agreement.
PRO TIP: Complete these tasks once all items have been removed from the property. This helps to ease the work and gives you a chance to double-check that you leave no personal belongings behind.
SEVEN – Where Are You Now That We Need You?
Once your property has been vacated, your items removed, all minor repairs complete, and cleaning finished your landlord or property manager will complete a property check to ensure that the space has been left in the agreed upon condition and per the property condition document that you submitted.
Once that is complete and all charges (hopefully none) are consolidated your landlord will be required to return the remainder of your security deposit. In most states, the landlord is required to return the funds within 30 days, but they will not be able to if they cannot find you.
Be sure to provide your landlord with the correct forwarding address with your written notification to terminate your lease. Without this information, your funds may find their way into the abyss!
Now You Got It!
There is a common misconception that landlords and property managers do not like to return a security deposit to a tenant. The truth is that the security deposit only insures that your promise to care for their property and investment is upheld. A landlord would gladly return a held security deposit, in full if their property is returned with no damage or additional maintenance requirements prior to the next tenant leasing that home or apartment.
Hopefully, these tips will help you, as a tenant, to educate yourself on the responsibility and requirements to ensure a full refund upon your lease termination.
ALMAR Property Management services single-family and multi-family residence rentals in Bowling Green, Perrysburg, Findlay, North Baltimore, Wood County, OH, and the surrounding Northwest Ohio area. Contact us TODAY for a list of available properties.