Writing checks for both the first month’s rent and a security deposit when moving into a new place can be tough on the budget, but the light at the end of tunnel is that the security deposit should make its way back when it’s time to move out.
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But sometimes that doesn’t happen.
If a place is trashed, left with holes in the wall or broken appliances, or certain lease terms weren’t kept, a landlord can keep the deposit.
According to a recent survey of 1,000 U.S. renters by Rent.com, 26% say they have lost a security deposit. What’s more, 36% of the renters that didn’t get their deposit say they weren’t offered an explanation for why their money was being kept.
Of the survey respondents, 37% of men and 44% women ages 18 to 24 blame losing their money for vacating a space before their lease was up. Nine percent of women and 3% of men lost a deposit because of damage caused by their pet.
“A renter should always request a written explanation of the damages and the cost estimates for fixing them,” says Kari Taylor, director of marketing at Rent.com. She says laws vary by state, but that in many cases, the landlord is required to disclose why a deposit is being kept.
In order for renters to protect themselves from losing any money, real estate experts advise they document any problems before they move in. Evidence can include taking pictures, submitting repair forms or giving a detailed list of all issues.
Renters should also take pictures of how they left an apartment. Pictures should be time and date stamped so the renter can’t be blamed for any damage that happened before or after their occupancy.
Taylor recommends renters do a walkthrough of the apartment with the landlord to find any issues prior to signing the lease. Any problems and damages should be included on the lease so it’s in writing it occurred before move in.
“If a renter lives there for many years, it may be difficult to remember that exact condition of the space at move in,” she says.
Most people renting an apartment will be required to sign a lease that should detail the conditions when a deposit will be kept.
According to Real Property Management COO Lukas Krause, while it may seem innocent to hang pictures on an apartment walls or put up a flat panel TV, doing that without the permission of the landlord or property manager could result in a partial or full loss of a deposit. Another common reason tenants lose their deposit is failing to give enough notice before they move out.
However, sometimes a landlord is forced to keep a security check since some tenants forget to give a forwarding address to their old landlord to send the check, says Stacy Brown, an operations manager at Real Property Management.
Renters should always strive to feel at home in their space, but they should ask permission before making major decoration choices like painting the walls a bold red or the ceiling orange.
“It’s always a good idea to check with a property manager just to make sure something doesn't go against polices,” says Brown.
Renters who find themselves in a dispute over their deposit should strive to remain level-headed.
“Whether the reason is painting an unusual color or moving out early, they should always be reasonable about the overall impact to the landlord’s business and try to make up for the damage done in some way,” says Taylor. “For instance, if a renter has to break their lease early, they should try offering to find a replacement tenant as terms to minimize the financial loss for both parties.”