7 Ways to Make Sure You Get Your Security Deposit Back
If you’re like most military renters, you’ve preemptively made plans for your yet-to-be-returned security and pet deposits. You might need a new sofa, money for a new housing deposit, or a little cash for PCS vacation, so you’re definitely interested in doing what it takes to get your full deposits back.
The simplest way to see your security deposit back in your bank account is to make it easy for your landlord (but know your tenant’s rights) to sign off on your move-out documents, and they’ll happily write your check.
You can do this by following the lease instructions to the letter and taking care of your move-out responsibilities. If you’re proactive, you’ll increase your chances of walking away with the entire deposit amount and avoid deductions.
1.Review Your Lease
A couple of months before your lease term ends or you anticipate PCS orders, it’s a smart idea to review the lease’s move-out procedures. You probably haven’t thought about the lease terms since you signed them years ago, so there’s a good chance security deposit instructions are spelled out, and all you need to do is follow the instructions.
If they’re not clear, spend some time researching your state’s landlord/tenant laws so you can have an informed conversation with your landlord when discussing your move-out plans. These are questions you should consider.
- How much notice do I need to give the landlord our departure date?
- Can I use the deposit for the last month’s rent?
- Do I need to send (certified mail or email?) the landlord a Demand Letter requesting the security deposit?
- How many days does the landlord have to return my security deposit or offer reasons for deducting costs?
- Am I owed any interest accrued on the security deposit over the years?
- What does the state consider normal “wear and tear” on the house? Nail holes? Dirty carpet?
Wow your landlord, and ensure you get your deposit back: 6 Tips for Being a Tenant that Landlords Love.
2. Refer to Your Move-In Check List
The checklist, date stamped corresponding pictures, and video will remind you what the property looked like when you moved in, especially since you and the homeowner signed off on the condition. You don’t want to carry the blame for broken items that you inherited.
3. Give Your Landlord Advanced Notice of Your Departure
Again, your lease should specify the number of days your landlord requests for a notice of departure, usually between 30 and 60 days. If it doesn't, refer to your state’s laws for the minimum requirements. Remember, a rental house is a business, and homeowners try to avoid months of zero rental income, so let them in on your details as soon as you’re sure about your plans.
In the case of an unexpected military move, you do have some flexibility if you have to break your lease under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). This federal law allows you to terminate (without penalty) your lease early for military service with orders, but it doesn’t exclude you from paying everything. You must pay rent payments for both the month notice is given and for the following month.
Read more about the SCRA and military clause: Everything Renters and Landlords Should Know About the SCRA and the Military Clause.
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4. Consider Scheduling an Unofficial Walk-Through
If you’re worried about receiving your entire security deposit, ask your landlord to stop by and show you areas they feel need improvement according to your lease. After their input, you can start cleaning and making minor repairs. This communication helps you and your landlord know what to expect on move-out day.
5.Repair and Deep Clean the House
If your landlord doesn’t provide you with an updated task list from your lease, you can refer to your move-in and move-out checklists. They sum up what you agreed to clean or repair before moving out. Some leases let you DIY (allow for several days' worth of cleaning top to bottom), but others require professionals.
You might have to show receipts from these professionals:
- House cleaners
- Carpet cleaners
- Pest control
- Gutter and landscaping services
When you’ve finished the move-out clean, take another set of pictures and video to verify the house's condition when you leave, so there isn’t a dispute about clean up or disrepair when you request your full security deposit.
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6. Plan a Final Walk-Through Day and Key Drop Off
Since you talked with your landlord multiple times before your last day, there shouldn't be any surprises during your final walkthrough. Together, inspect each room to room. After your landlord signs the move-out checklist, you can hand over the keys and move on to the next item on your PCS to-do list.
7. Officially Request Your Security Deposit
By now, you’ve likely discussed your deposit return with the landlord and know how much you’ll receive and when to expect your check. But, if you haven’t, check your lease and state laws about the appropriate documentation and dates. You might have to formally request it and send your new address for receipt. Most leases allow the landlord 30 days to return the security deposit.
Hopefully, because of your diligence, all goes well and you’ll see your deposit soon. But you do have options if your landlord doesn’t fulfill their legal obligations or you disagree with their deductions. First, try to work out an agreement, like taking on extra cleaning, but get the resolution in writing. Then, if they still haven’t sent your money, you have the option in most states to write an official demand later asking for the deposit and taking your case to small claims court.