Get Your Security Deposit Back: Moving Out

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If you want to get your security deposit back when you move out of your unit, you should follow a few basic rules.
According to Nolo.com, an online provider of legal information and publications, most states have guidelines that direct how and when landlords should return your security deposit. The general rule is that you're not responsible for paying for normal wear and tear. But, if your unit is damaged because of unreasonable

If you want to get your security deposit back when you move out of your unit, you should follow a few basic rules.

According to Nolo.com, an online provider of legal information and publications, most states have guidelines that direct how and when landlords should return your security deposit. The general rule is that you're not responsible for paying for normal wear and tear. But, if your unit is damaged because of unreasonable carelessness or deliberate misuse, you must pay for it out of your security deposit.

To protect yourself and your landlord, you should go on an official walkthrough before you move into your unit. During this walkthrough, you should use a checklist to assess your unit, including the condition of the walls, appliances and windows. You and your landlord should both sign and date this document. That way, if there is preexisting damage you won't be liable, and your landlord also is protected.

If you complete this preliminary checklist, you'll have a much easier time with verification of your unit's final condition when you move. But this preliminary checklist and walkthrough aren't your only essential tools. You'll also need to have an understanding of your rights. "There is a tremendous variation among the states as to how carefully landlords are expected to handle the security deposit and what they can use it for," says Janet Portman, an attorney and managing editor with Nolo.com and the author of Every Tenant's Legal Guide.

"The most important thing to understand is that you're going to be responsible for damage that's beyond wear and tear," Portman says, adding that that common sense will tell you if you've caused damage due to "extreme" or "negative" use.

So, if extreme damage isn't a factor in your case, read on to learn how you can have the best chances for reclaiming your security deposit during the final days of your tenancy. You'll need a copy of your lease, a bit of elbow grease (in some cases) and time to tie up loose ends.

Give proper notice when moving out. Make sure you review your original lease to determine what sort of notice you'll need to give. If you owe back rent, your landlord may use your security deposit as a way to receive money owed. If you don't give proper notice of your departure, your landlord may be able to charge you for the time after you move.

Complete your own assessment. Ideally, you and your landlord did a formal walkthrough of your unit and signed a checklist when you moved in. If you did this walkthrough, pull a copy of the checklist from your files and go through it line by line to see if you've damaged any of the items on the list. This way, you'll be prepared for your final walkthrough with your landlord.

The checklist also is important because it can help you zero in on the cosmetic areas in your unit that need attention. When you moved in, perhaps the surface of your stove was gleaming, and now those late night spaghetti dinners have left their mark. By using your checklist to review what needs the most help, you'll be on the way to getting your funds returned.

Know your rights when cleaning your unit. You should talk to your landlord and review your original lease to find out what the landlord plans to replace. Depending on where you live and who manages your property, you may not have to worry about getting stains out of your carpet, because the carpet may be automatically replaced -- at your landlord's expense -- at the end of your leasing term.

However, if your lease says that you're responsible for paying a cleaning fee upon your departure, be careful. Portman says that some states, such as California, have disallowed this type of legal language. "You really need to know your rights," she says, referencing the "normal wear and tear" rule. In some states, she says, even if your lease says you're required to pay such a fee, the requirement won't hold up in court.

If your state allows landlords to collect cleaning fees, Portman says its not worth it to spend time cleaning your unit, since you'll be charged for the cleaning service anyway. However, if you live in a state that does not allow these fees, you should follow a different course of action. Portman says that, in this case, it's worth it to clean to try to recoup your deposit.

If you choose to clean up, don't just be content with cursory sweeping and vacuuming; make sure to examine corners, appliances and bathrooms. While you're vacuuming the floors, take advantage of the hose and other attachments to really get into corners and remove dust and dirt. Make sure to remove stains on counters, sinks and tubs. And pick up that mop that's been hibernating in your storage closet so that you can erase the evidence of that party you had last week.

In addition, try to do a final cleaning after your belongings are out of your apartment. No one really knew if you didn't vacuum under the bed while you were a tenant, but when your bed is gone, any leftover dirt or dust will be very obvious.

Do a final walkthrough. After you've moved your belongings out of your unit, schedule a walkthrough with your landlord. This is when you should resurrect your original walkthrough checklist and re-evaluate the condition of your place. Both you and your landlord should agree about your apartment's condition before you sign on the dotted line.

If you can't do a final walkthrough with your landlord, complete your own checklist. Take pictures of your unit if you can to document its condition on your last day.

And remember to do a preliminary walkthrough of your new unit if you're moving to another rental.

Leave your new address. Landlords are often required to itemize deductions and return your security deposit within 14 to 30 days after your move. (To see the amount of time for your state, take a look at the chart provided at nolo.com.)

Regardless of where you live, make sure to provide your forwarding address before moving out. Remember, after you've done the assessment and walkthrough, your landlord needs to know where to send your check!

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