Residential Security Deposits: Useful Tips to Help You Recover Your Deposit

Kevin Quinn, Staff Attorney
Housing Unit

Tenants often have difficulty recovering all or even a portion of the security deposit that they paid to their landlord at the beginning of their tenancy.  The following are some useful tips we recommend using to insure that your transition out of your apartment is a smooth one.

The first step is to maintain a positive relationship with your landlord throughout your tenancy.  A strong working relationship will help to better resolve disagreements and will lead to successful compromises as to what should and should not be deducted from a security deposit.

Next, it is highly recommended that any tenant photograph their unit both upon move-in and move-out.  Landlords may make deductions from security deposits for unpaid rent, or the reasonable cost of repairs made beyond “normal wear and tear.”  Detailed photographs that show you left your apartment in the same condition you found it can help protect you if your landlord makes unwarranted deductions from your security deposit.

Finally, tenants should try to arrange “walk-throughs” with their landlord upon both move-in and move-out.  At the move-in stage, you can point out imperfections in the unit ahead of time so that they are not attributed to you upon move-out.  At the move-out walk-through, your landlord may point out conditions that should be remedied before you officially move out.  This will give you the chance to make corrections and improve your chances of receiving your security deposit in full.

After moving out of your apartment, we recommend writing to your landlord to confirm that you would like your security deposit returned to you.  The law gives a “reasonable time” for a landlord to return a deposit, which is a bit unclear.  Most courts would agree, however, that thirty days is enough time for landlords to return security deposits.

If your landlord has refused to return a security deposit, or if you feel that a portion of the deposit is being wrongfully withheld, your recourse would be to file an action in small claims court.  This is where photos of your apartment taken before your tenancy begins as well as after your move-out can be helpful to refute any unfair charges made by your landlord.  You should consult your local court for rules and procedures as to how to file a small claims action.

Some landlord/tenant relationships run more smoothly than others.  Following these tips, however, can help alleviate potential issues that may arise when attempting to recover your security deposit.

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