There are few things more disappointing than learning that your landlord is not going to give you a full security deposit return. This is especially unsettling if you were counting on that money to cover the cost of your move or to use it as a security deposit elsewhere. If you want to know how to get the security deposit back, you should learn all the reasons why landlords often keep the money, and what to do to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.

The first thing you should know is that just because they keep a deposit does not mean they are technically supposed to. Some landlords nitpick at the tiniest thing knowing very few tenants will pay to go through the legal process to get their security deposit refund. So, you must do everything you can to avoid giving them the slightest reason to keep your return. Read up, especially if this is for your first apartment.

Early Lease Termination

So, you found a great deal on an apartment closer to work, but your lease isn’t up for two months. Surely your landlord won’t mind, right? Think again! If you terminate your lease early, your landlord may be legally entitled to some or all of your deposit. In this situation, the only way you are eligible to receive your security deposit return is if there is a clause in your lease stating permitted reasons for breaking the lease early. The landlord can even choose to take you to court to cover the balance of the months remaining on the lease.

Failing to Pay Rent

If you are concerned with how to get the security deposit back then the most important thing you need to do is pay your rent. If your landlord has to go through the trouble of evicting you then you are sure not getting a penny of your deposit back.

How to Get Security Deposit Back With Property Damage

If you break the door frame stuff your sofa through or you accidentally put a huge hole in the wall practicing your swing with a new golf club, the cost of repairs will be coming out of your security deposit refund. Damages also include those resulting from pets. So, if your feline friend shreds all the window screens or your puppy chewed the baseboard when you were late coming home from work one day these are damages that will be deducted from your deposit. Other common damages include stains or holes in the carpet, water damage to hardwood floors, cracked counters in the kitchen or bath, broken doors, missing electrical outlets, damaged or missing smoke alarms or carbon monoxide detectors, and broken windows and failure to return keys.

It should be noted that as a tenant you are not responsible for normal wear and tear. Dirty grout, tarnished bathroom fixtures, loose handles on cabinets and drawers, very small carpet stains or wear in high traffic a few nail holes are a few examples.

The best thing you can do is make sure the home is in the condition it was originally rented, if not better. It will cost you a lot less to pay a handyman to deal with minor repairs than leaving it to the landlord. In many cases, landlords are known to get a few inflated estimates to deduct the amount from your deposit, yet fix the problem themselves. Also, although nail holes are considered normal wear, some landlords deduct them. Rub a bar of white soap over the holes to fill them in before the walk-through, if you don’t have time to fill them in properly.

Unpaid Utility Bills

If the utilities get transferred directly back to your landlord’s name, they may require proof that the final bill has been paid before releasing that amount of the deposit. Take care of your final bill promptly, and make sure you get a receipt or confirmation code.

Cleaning Costs and Your Security Deposit Return

The last thing you want to do is spent time cleaning after moving out, but you don’t want the price of an expensive cleaning service coming out of your security deposit either. If you have a relative or friend looking to make some extra money, they may take care of it for you. You can rent carpet cleaner at most local grocery stores.

If you have pets, be sure to get a carpet cleaning product designed for pet odors. If your landlord smells pet odors they may keep some of your deposit to have the carpets professionally cleaned, even if you did them.

Security Deposit Refund Odds and Ends

Missing or damaged sink or tub stoppers, light bulbs, cabinet handles, and ice cube trays may cause them to keep your money, as well. Lastly, read through your lease to see if you are required to give a 30-day written notice that you won’t be renewing for another term. Sometimes, there is a tricky little departure clause that could cost you a lot of money. If you are wondering how to get the security deposit back follow these tips and you should be in good shape.

Moving out of an old apartment is exciting…but it can be a stressful time, too. On top of all the other things you have going on, one thought will definitely:

I sure hope I get my security deposit back.

Let’s set one thing straight:

Getting your security deposit back isn’t about hope.

It’s not about wishful thinking.

It’s about knowing exactly what your former landlord will want to see when they open the apartment door after you move out.

Consider the following if you want to end your lease on good terms, and increase your chances of getting your entire security deposit back.

Document Everything When You Move In

The process of moving out begins before you even move in.

When you move into a new apartment, your landlord may or may not give you a checklist of things to take note of – from small issues like scratches or dings to major problems like leaky faucets or broken appliances.

In the excitement of moving into a new place, it can be easy to rush through this list if everything looks “good enough.” But this is exactly what can come back to bite you years later. Sure, you know the toilet always had that crack in it – but if you didn’t document it when you moved in, you might be held responsible for it.

To avoid all this, make note of every little problem you see immediately upon moving in. Take picture. Heck, make a video while you do your first walk-through.

You’ll thank yourself years later when your landlord claims you caused damage that had been their way before you moved in.

Wear and Tear…Or Major Damage?

Speaking of damage:

You need to know the difference between normal wear and tear and outright destruction of property.

This one’s a little subjective, as it largely depends on your landlord’s outlook. But let’s assume your landlord understands that things deteriorate over time.

But that also doesn’t excuse you, the tenant, from negligence.

For example, if the seal on the apartment’s windows has started falling apart, it’s most likely not your fault. But if you were trying to fix it and ended up breaking the entire frame…that’s on you.

When moving out, know what you should – and should not be responsible for.

Make a Checklist

Okay, now we’re getting into the actual process of moving out.

Just like when you moved in, your landlord may or may not give you a checklist of things to take care of before you hand in your keys.

If they don’t, make one yourself.

Consider everything you can think of that is within your power to fix or, at the very least, that you should notify your landlord of.

Make this list before you ac any work. This will keep you on track and ensure you don’t overlook anything when the apartment starts to look “good enough.”

Make Repairs

Once you know what needs to be fixed, it’s time to get to work.

Again: know what’s within your power to fix. Don’t mess with the electricity, plumbing, or structural aspects of the apartment. Instead, focus on cosmetics.

Patch up any holes and dings in the wall.

Return walls to their original color.

Replace broken shelving or door and window frames.

Chances are, the cost of making these repairs pales in comparison to your full security deposit. Keep that in mind if you have to shell out a hundred bucks or so to fix up your old place.

Clean Deeply

Once you’ve made repairs, it’s time to clean.

And when I say clean, I mean clean.

Air the place out.

Sweep and vacuum spots you never even glanced at while living there.

Scrub the walls, floors, bathroom fixtures, and kitchen appliances completely.

This is where you should go above and beyond. Your landlord will likely be hiring a cleaning service after you move out anyway, but putting in the extra effort could earn you some brownie points when your landlord takes a final walk-through.

Stay for the Walk-through

Once you’re ready to hand in your keys, there’s one more thing you need to do:

Accompany your former landlord while they assess the apartment for damages.

This will help mitigate any discrepancies between your checklist assessment and theirs – whether on the spot or later on.

Take care to approach this final encounter not as a way of covering yourself, but as a way of showing the landlord that you care about the property. Show them you want to make sure you’ve done everything you can to prepare the apartment for its next inhabitants.

A small gesture like this could go a long way to getting your security deposit back.