How To Avoid Losing Your Security Deposit

Assuming you haven’t wrecked the place, of course. Assuming you have taken good care of your apartment:

  • Bring a camera or camcorder with you for your move-in walkthrough. Try to capture the condition of the entire apartment, empty. Put this somewhere safe.
  • When you leave, clean up carefully. Plug holes, clean the bathroom, etc. You may want to hire a cleaning service yourself, as many landlords will do that, anyway, and charge you for it.
  • After you have cleared out your stuff and cleaned up, get out your camera again. Do a thorough walkthrough.
  • Once you are out, send your landlord a letter telling him or her exactly what you did to clear out the apartment, especially if you hired a cleaning service, and give your landlord the address where you want your security deposit sent.

If you do all this and your landlord retains your security deposit, anyway, take them to conciliation court. You have great evidence. If you return the unit to the landlord in the condition it was in when you moved in, minus normal wear and tear, your landlord should not be able to retain your security deposit. SAM GLOVER


Edit Your Comment

  1. Trackback says:

    [Consumerist crosspost] Assuming you haven’t wrecked the place, of course. Assuming you have taken good care of your apartment: Bring a camera or camcorder with you for your move-in walkthrough. Try to capture the condition of the entire apartment, empty.

  2. MercuryPDX says:

    ‘because Nina is “not a joint cardholder on the account and [her] mother left no estate,” she does not incur the debt.’

    So does this mean that had her mother left an estate, the unpaid bills would come out of that?

  3. timmus says:

    I don’t know about other states, but in Texas if you provide proper address notification and 30 days elapses without any contact, the landlord owes you your security deposit PLUS substantial penalties. So if you’re wise, you will send the address notification in writing by certified return receipt mail to start the clock ticking.

    Also I can’t underemphasize the importance of photographing the place -before- the move-in. If it’s a house, this includes structural photos of the outside; ANYTHING that makes it look like a dump. Regardless of what your photos look like on move-out, a shrewd landlord will be able to come up with a slew of “damage” and trump your move-out photos with his own.

  4. MercuryPDX says:

    Weird, I know I posted that in the “Coma Debt” thread.

  5. SOhp101 says:

    A lot of states actually do NOT allow landlords to deduct for ‘wear and tear.’

    The tip that I can give you: get ready to fight for your security deposit. Landlords usually will try to give you less than what you’re entitled. It’s an uphill battle but if you follow proper protocol and take pictures, the court will be on your side.

  6. Crazytree says:
  7. illusions029 says:

    Since our landloard was doing some shady things in our rented apartment (which is why we moved out). We did something that would ensure that we would not loose the $1000 security deposit, since our monthly rent was $1075. We wrote the loadlord a check for $75 and told him to put our $1000 security deposit towards our $1075 last months rent. And that was that.

  8. Alexander says:

    I just finished going through my own sort of battle for my rent deposit. We had to move a week into our rent period so we couldn’t give 30 day notice. We have 21 day notice after agreeing with the management company that they would take the prorated amount for those 7 days from the deposit. We moved, cleaned everything, gave everything back. Everything was in order. Time passed and the 21 days California gives to return the deposit passed with not a single form of correspondence from management or the landlord. I called the landlord and he refused to give me a contact number for management. He actually said that he didn’t have it, that he only communicated with them through fax (is that possible?). Regardless, I began sending faxes and never got a single reply. Six more weeks passed and enough was enough, I sent a registered letter to the management company saying that if I didn’t at least hear from them in 7 days I would file a small claims case. I filled out the court paper work and readied myself to file it. On the 7th day after I sent the letter, sure enough I got my check. For the full amount, nothing was deducted. It was funny that the form letter they sent along with the check had the wrong name, at least the check didn’t. It seems that they were just counting on me not doing anything. I really didn’t want to go to court, it would have been so damn annoying and cumbersome…

  9. ancientsociety says:

    Chicago Tenant’s Rights

    In Chicago, the rental company has 30 days from the date you move out to provide any receipts/invoices for repairs related to damages incurred and then another 15 (45 total) to get you your check.

  10. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    Casey Serin writes:
    Or, you can pay no security deposit, like me, and use corporate credit to pay your rent. That’s what I call a sweet deal!

  11. dgandy says:

    i just signed a lease for a post properties in atlanta, and i believe that said they are only going to give me back 1/2 my deposit when i move out. That’s what a lot of other apartment complexes said as well. Does anyone have any insight on this?

  12. tozmervo says:

    Only 1/2 your deposit? Then the other half is a fee. Not a deposit. Try pointing that out.

  13. alk509 says:

    My previous landlord tried to pull a fast one on me by doing the move-out inspection 2 days before the rental period expired, without me being present, and without telling me about it. We cleaned and fixed the place the next day, and called the landlord to do the inspection and get our deposit. He, of course, said there would be no deposit, since the place was dirty, still had nail holes in the walls, et cetera… I could’ve killed the guy!

    We threatened him with legal action, so he agreed to a legal inspection, after which he had to agree to give us our deposit back. Still took him over three months to mail the check, and he didn’t include interest on the deposit, which he’s required to do by MA law…

  14. GeekChicCanuck says:

    If you live in Canada, your provincial government’s Department of Justice (or equivalent) can also assist you in these disputes. When I left my last apartment, the landlord tried to stiff me of my deposit, so I contacted the provincial government.

    After a 2 week investigation, they issued an order to the landlord to pay the deposit, plus interest. Three days later, I had a check in my hand.

  15. bigvicproton says:

    i gave up after the first few rip-off landlords, and now i just call the month ahead and say im leaving in a month and then dont pay the rent. or two months if its two months deposit. it takes them longer than that to evict you in most places. im not recommending it, it could cause you all kinds of nightmares, just saying it worked for me.

    on the other hand i have heard of people who knew the moment from the inspection that their landlord was going to screw them. thus the flushed combs down the toilets and other drainholes, a walk on the roof in golf shoes, a chunk of antenna cable cut off 20 feet into the wall, bluecheese and catfish dropped behind electrical outlets to fall deep into the walls (sometimes with a live and pregnant pet rat or mouse), electrical outlets superglued shut, fridges superglued to the floor, fuses superglued in place, gallons of bleach into the septic system and the shrubbery, snakes into the ceiling… all future time bombs for the landlord to deal with as he’s drinking away your deposit…

  16. bostonguy says:

    (NOTE: I live in MA)

    A few years ago, my wife & I were moving out of our apartment. Since I was on disability at the time, money was tight, and we didn’t want to have to deal with paying rent and paying deposits on the new apartment while waiting to get our deposit back from the current landlord.

    I wrote up a well-worded and well thought out letter asking the landlord to apply our security deposit to our last month’s rent, and also spelling out very verbosely that I would absolve her of all liability under MA state law for not returning our security deposit to us.

    Heh, I also spelled out that, since we never did a move-in inspection, she couldn’t withhold any of the deposit for damages anyway, since she couldn’t prove that anything was done after we moved in…

  17. The Bigger Unit says:

    Pay for a cleaning service yourself….and then have your landlord pay for a cleaning service again anyway (and deduct it anyway)? No thanks. I’ll just spray on some oven cleaner and clean the bathroom myself, and then let the landlord pay for the cleaning service again.

  18. acambras says:

    When we moved into this place in May, I took lots of photos. But then I took things a step further. I wrote up an extensive memo (with color photos) detailing the pre-existing damages. Within the footer, I put the apartment address, the date, and a space for the apartment manager’s signature. This way there was a signature blank on every page. Then I nicely asked the manager to sign at the bottom of each page. I told her, “nothing personal, but we don’t want to get blamed for this stuff down the road.” She had no problem signing every page, and now I’ll have it when it’s time to move.

  19. Peekoos says:


    Ugh, when I read ‘bleu cheese’ and ‘catfish’ in the same sentence, I almost threw up in my mouth a little.

  20. trixare4kids says:

    A number of years ago I took a landlord to court who kept most of our deposit. His list, and I’m not kidding, included:
    *$30 – thumb print of cleanser left on shower stall
    *$100 – cleaning bugs from light fixture above front porch.
    *$80 – bathroom window not clean
    *$50 – disposal of trash in kitchen (I accidentally left a full, unopened box of garbage bags!)
    I had taken pictures showing the place was spic ‘n span. You could eat off any surface of that place! The landlord didn’t respond to our requests for the rest of the deposit so I actually took him to small claims. We not only won our deposit back, we got $600 in punitive damages because the judge said “looking at these pictures of this very clean apartment, Mr. Smith, I think you kept their deposit in bad faith and I’m sure you’ve gotten away with it before. You can’t do that. ” The whole courtroom cheered!

    I later lived in a building where the landlord was notorious for keeping the deposits no matter what. I did exactly what some of the other consumerist readers here did and wrote them a letter telling them to apply my deposit to the last month’s rent. At that point, they weren’t going to be able to get me out before the 30 days were up.

    I’m a good tenant and left the place in perfect condition. I took pictures and had witnesses but they STILL sent me a demand letter for $400 for cleaning. I sent them copies of the pictures and…. $400 IN MONOPOLY MONEY. Never heard from them again.

    Thank god I OWN now.

  21. Me. says:

    All I can say is, if you live in Tempe, never rent from Rentals Tempe or from a small man named Craig.

    Enough said.

  22. theora55 says:

    As a small-time landlord, I assure that it goes both ways. I’ve had tenants leave an apartment filthy, ruin hardwood floors, melt siding with a hibachi(thankfully they didn’t burn the place down), and use the deposit as the last month’s rent, then stay for another month.

    You wanted deep red paint in the bedroom? It’s gonna take at least a coat of Killz and a coat or 2 of paint to cover. Your cat peed outside the litter box and the wood floor underneath reeks. And Kitty left fleas. Lots of fleas. All that junk in the storage closet that you didn’t want to move? Now I have to move it.

    I do a walk through with new tenants, and we both sign off on the inspection. Next time I rent an apartment, I’m going to take pictures. It protects both sides.