In most cases, you won't have any trouble getting your security deposit back. In a few cases, however, you may need to bring in some really scary people: lawyers.
Before it gets to that point, continue documenting everything and know your rights. Remember how we told you to get the age of things like paint and carpet? If the landlord is going to charge you for carpet replacement, in many places, he or she can only charge you for part of the amount depending on the age of the carpet. That is, you can't be charged for the full cost of brand-new carpet if the carpet was left over from the Nixon administration and needed to be replaced anyway. If your landlord is withholding all or part of your security deposit, they will have to not only document the damages, but also provide an itemized list of repairs and costs. You may have grounds to dispute these costs, especially if you were otherwise a good tenant, stayed on top of repairs and cleaning and documented everything (do you see a theme emerging here?)
If your landlord is still stalling, keep lines of communication open, but get everything in writing. This is the kind of situation e-mail was made for. Keep it civil, state your case, back it up with photos, your lease agreement and the rental laws in your area. If your landlord is clearly violating the law or your lease, you can take them to small claims court to get your security deposit back.
When you do get your deposit back, I suggest using it to start saving for buying a place of your own, so you never have to deal with crazy landlords again.
Author's Note: 5 Tips for Getting Your Security Deposit Back
As someone who has been both a renter and a landlord (being a landlord exposes you to a whole lot more crazy than being a renter, trust me), you'd think the tips in this article would be second nature. You'd be wrong. I've lost a ton of money on security deposits. Some I lost because I went ahead and let my cat destroy the blinds in my rented bedroom, others because I simply didn't know my rights and let an unscrupulous landlord walk all over me. As a landlord, I've lost money by not documenting the property condition well before people moved in and letting tenants walk all over me. (There's another theme). After researching and writing this, however, I realized that it doesn't have to be that way. Tenants and landlords can work together, document issues, return security deposits and sit around a campfire singing "Kumbaya." It's not necessarily world peace, but it's a step in the right direction.
- Apartment Ratings. "Get Your Security Deposit Back When Moving Out." Apartmentratings.com. Feb. 8, 2006. (June 20, 2012) http://ohmyapt.apartmentratings.com/security_deposit_back.html
- Fulmer, Melinda. "Renters: Get Back Your Security Deposit." MSN Real Estate. (June 20, 2012) http://realestate.msn.com/article.aspx?cp-documentid=13108376
- Karim, Andrea. "20 Tips for Getting Your Security Deposit Back." WiseBread.com. April 15, 2007. (June 20, 2012) http://www.wisebread.com/20-tips-for-getting-your-security-deposit-back
- Schultz, Jennifer Saranow. "How to Get a Security Deposit Back from a Landlord." The New York Times Bucks Blog. Dec. 29, 2009. (June 20, 2012) http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/22/how-to-get-your-security-deposit-back/
- Tata, Jessica. "How To: Get Back Your Security Deposit." Apartment Therapy. Aug. 19, 2011. (June 20, 2012) http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/getting-back-your-security-dep-154171
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