Any renter is likely familiar with the time-honored tradition of the security deposit, a fee (often a month’s rent) paid in advance by the renter to cover any damages made during occupation of a property.
“It’s quite common for landlords to require their tenants to pay a security deposit at the beginning of a lease. And this makes economic sense,” professor Peter Malaguti explains in the Massachusetts School of Law podcast “A Point of Law”.
“Landlords often don’t discover that a tenant has damaged a rental unit until the end of the lease when the tenant is gone and often hard to find,” he says.
“My advice to tenants is that you too should learn the law of security deposits in your state,” he says. “Most states consider the security deposit to be your money and you should take reasonable steps to protect your deposit.”
Below are a few suggestions for renters on how to ensure the return of a deposit.
At move-in time:
- Inspect the property thoroughly upon arrival and document any existing damages so you are not charged for them later. Don’t ignore small details such as carpet stains or chipped paint, as repairs for such damages add up quickly.
- Insist the landlord provide you, the renter, with a receipt for your security deposit.
- Ask your landlord to sign-off on the existing damages so you have proof that you’ve notified a person in charge.
- Keep all of your rental paperwork for as long as you live in that space and for a few months after in case any disputes arise.
- Speak to your landlord immediately should your property require maintenance. The repairs may be covered in your lease and certain damages will grow worse over time, causing a bigger headache in the future.
- Keep records of rent payments, as some property owners will charge a late fee and remove money from your security deposit to pay it.
At move-out time:
- Clean! This may sound like a small step but you can lose a massive chunk of your deposit should the landlord wish to hire a cleaning service after you leave. Some management companies do ask you to pay a cleaning fee up front but this fee does not cover cleaning above and beyond normal.
- Remove ALL of your things! Companies like 1st Lake Properties, have a small fee associated with cleaning the apartment, however, this fee does not include furniture and other small household items left in the home upon your exit.
For renters experiencing a conflict with a landlord, such as a deposit the renter feels is being unfairly withheld, Malaguti suggests consulting a professional. “An experienced landlord-tenant attorney in your state is the person best qualified to render competent advice on security deposits,” he says.