7 ways to avoid losing your security deposit

How to Negotiate Your Rent

You've known your landlord for months, maybe even years, so you've likely formed a relationship. But even if you exchange friendly words and live in harmony while you're renting their space, landlord-tenant relationships can do a 180 at move-out time when a security deposit is involved. Naturally, tenants expect all of their deposit back, especially when they've kept the place tidy.

Unfortunately, not all landlords treat their tenants fairly, and if you've been confused about why you didn't get your full deposit back (or didn't get a refund at all!), it's not hard to see why this is a frequent sticking point for renters. But it's not just unfair for a landlord to withhold a security deposit refund for no reason: In most states, it's not even legal. Take the following steps to help ensure you get your security deposit back.

1. Fill out an apartment rental inspection checklist

Fill out the move-in checklist your landlord provides for you, or download a rental inspection checklist from Trulia. In addition to checking off all boxes — from ensuring everything is working to noting any blemishes and marks — bring a camera and take pictures or videos of your apartment before you unpack your boxes. Pay extra attention to anything that looks less than stellar. This way, your landlord can't claim you caused the damage. Once you've filled out the checklist, make a signed and dated copy of it for you and your landlord.

2. Take pictures the day you move out

Document how pristine you left the place: Take photos of every room and email them to your landlord the same day. If you can't send them via email (or don't think it's necessary), don't sweat it. Most digital images have time-stamp data included in the file if you later need to prove the date and time they were taken. That way, the crazy keg party your landlord throws the day after you move out can't be attributed to you.

3. Read your lease carefully

Your lease will tell you if you need to give notice, and how much time is required. Usually, if your lease has an end date, you can simply move out on or before that day, but some leases automatically extend. If yours does, you'll need to give notice, or else you could be at risk of losing your security deposit for breaking your new lease. If you are on a month-to-month lease, you'll also need to give written notice, usually 30 days before you plan to move out. "Get a receipt from your landlord that your notice was submitted on time," says Nancy Gaines of Colorado, a landlord and founder of Women Gaining Wealth.

4. Understand how landlord-tenant laws apply to you

Landlords should abide by local laws and statutes. Whether you live in an apartment for rent in Chicago, IL, or Baltimore, MD, a little research can make a big difference. Adam Ansari, a Chicago attorney specializing in real estate law, recommends that tenants check their city, county, and state laws for security deposit details and then write a letter to the landlord two to three months before the move-out date, reminding the landlord of the law. This will let the landlord know that you expect your full deposit back (or at least a detailed explanation of why they're keeping it).

5. Start organizing and reassembling your place

Spend some time putting the property back in its original condition:

  • Patch any holes in the walls where you hung posters, pictures, etc.
  • Repaint the walls their original color (unless your new colors have been landlord-approved)
  • Fix any damages you caused
  • Clean the refrigerator and oven
  • Clean the entire apartment once you have all your furniture moved out

6. Request a final apartment walk-through

Ask your landlord to inspect the place with you present (after you have cleaned and fixed it up). Keep in mind that landlords do not have to agree to do a walk-through with you. Many landlords prefer to do the walk-through alone and at their leisure, to ensure you didn't damage the place beyond normal wear and tear, but they should still be able to provide you with a list of any damages and the charges to fix them.

7. Tie up loose ends

Yes, you should drop off the keys, but you should also be sure to leave a forwarding address. And if you'd like the security deposit returned somewhere aside from your forwarding address, make sure to leave that with your landlord too. Let your landlord know where to send the security deposit.

Keep in mind: If you've followed these tips, didn't leave behind major damage, and still don't get your security deposit back, Wayne Gathright of Tenants.com says to "contact the local tenant's council or go to small claims court." He notes that many times, just "the threat of legal action is enough to get things resolved."

Have you ever had a security deposit refund withheld? Share your experiences and tips in the comments!

Related: 10 cities with the tiniest homes

10 cities with the most tiny homes
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7 ways to avoid losing your security deposit

10. (Tie) Dallas, Texas: 14 Tiny Houses for Sale

Not everything is bigger in Texas. In fact, tiny homes are catching on throughout the state. Dallas has the 10th highest number in the nation of tiny homes listed for sale — tied with Irving, Texas, and Nashville, Tenn.

Like in many large cities, housing costs are high in Dallas. The city has experienced one of the steepest surges in rental prices in the nation, according to the Zumper National Rent Report for August 2015. Low-price tiny homes might be offering an alternative to high-rent apartments and high-priced homes.

Related: Best (and Worst) States to Buy a Home This Spring

Photo credit: GOBankingRates.com/Courtesy of TinyHouseListings.com

10 (Tie) Irving, Texas: 14 Tiny Houses for Sale

This suburb has as many tiny homes listed for sale as its bigger neighbor, Dallas. High housing costs could be among the reasons.

According to Zillow, monthly rent in Irving is $1,429 — $132 higher than in Dallas. And the median sale price for homes is $175,598.

Photo credit: GOBankingRates.com/Courtesy of TinyHouseListings.com

10. (Tie) Nashville, Tenn.: 14 Tiny Houses for Sale

Nashville is one the many cities where the tiny house movement is growing. In fact, a micro-home community for the homeless was recently created in Nashville, reports USA Today.

However, there are some restrictions on small homes in the city. Zoning laws allow for accessory dwelling units — small structures built on property with a primary structure — according to MusicCityTinyHouse.com. But houses on wheels can only be in areas that allow RV camping.

Photo credit: GOBankingRates.com/Courtesy of TinyHouseListings.com

9. Aurora, Colo.: 18 Tiny Houses for Sale

Housing costs in this city in the Denver metropolitan area aren't as high as in Aurora's bigger neighbor. But there are several tiny home contractors in the area, which might explain why so many tiny homes are listed for sale in Aurora.

Photo credit: GOBankingRates.com/Courtesy of TinyHouseListings.com

8. San Antonio, Texas: 21 Tiny Houses for Sale

One of the big builders of tiny homes, Tiny Texas Houses, is located about 60 miles from San Antonio — which might explain why the city has many tiny homes listed for sale.

Photo credit: GOBankingRates.com/Courtesy of TinyHouseListings.com

7. Memphis, Tenn.: 24 Tiny Houses for Sale

Small home construction company Tennessee Tiny Homes — and sister company, Tiny Happy Homes — are located just outside Memphis, which might explain the high number of small house listings in the Memphis area. In fact, one of Tennessee Tiny Homes' houses has been featured on the FYI TV series, "Tiny House Nation."

Photo credit: GOBankingRates.com/Courtesy of TinyHouseListings.com

6. Denver: 25 Tiny Houses for Sale

Tiny homes were actually the big attraction at the recent Denver Home Show, a testament to the growing popularity of these small structures in the Mile-High City. "Tiny House Nation" has even filmed episodes in Denver, according to The Denver Post.

However, zoning laws in Denver — like in many other cities — don't favor tiny homes. But, city officials have said recently that they're open to discussing rules regarding tiny houses, reports The Denver Post.

Photo credit: GOBankingRates.com/Courtesy of TinyHouseListings.com

5. San Francisco: 26 Tiny Houses for Sale

It's well known that San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities to live in. The median home sales price is nearly $1 million, according to Zillow. With a lack of affordable housing, there is a demand for inexpensive tiny homes.

However, prospective tiny house homeowners should do their research first; San Francisco's zoning codes make it difficult to have a tiny home legally.

Photo credit: GOBankingRates.com/Courtesy of TinyHouseListings.com

4. Oakland, Calif.: 31 Tiny Houses for Sale

Housing costs also are high in San Francisco's neighbor to the East, Oakland, which recently saw rent prices surge 20 percent, according to the Zumper National Rent Report. As a result, it seems that tiny homes are growing in popularity as an affordable alternative.

But, zoning laws make it difficult to find a place to park or build a tiny home legally, too. Despite the obstacles, tiny house enthusiasts abound in Oakland. The East Bay Tiny House Enthusiasts group has more than 1,000 members.

Photo credit: GOBankingRates.com/Courtesy of TinyHouseListings.com

3. Austin, Texas: 50 Tiny Houses for Sales

Austin residents who are renting might want to consider becoming first-time homeowners — tiny house homeowners, that is. Austin was the second fastest-growing rental market in the U.S., with rental prices jumping 17 percent, according to the Zumper National Rent August 2015 Report. As a result, there's been a push in the city for more affordable housing.

Photo credit: GOBankingRates.com/Courtesy of TinyHouseListings.com

​2. Seattle: 64 Tiny Houses for Sale

The growth in tiny homes might be fueled by the high cost of housing in Seattle, which has the 10th highest median rent for one-bedroom apartments in the nation, according to Zumper, and a median home sale price of $515,561, according to Zillow.

Seattle created a village of tiny homes and opened it in early 2016 for those least able to afford the city's high housing costs: the homeless, reports local news station KIRO 7.

Photo credit: GOBankingRates.com/Courtesy of TinyHouseListings.com

1. Portland, Ore.: 87 Tiny Houses for Sale

Portland is considered to be a hotbed of tiny homes (it's also the best U.S. city for saving money). There are likely many reasons why the tiny house movement has caught on here.

For starters, the median rent is among the top 20 highest in the nation, according to the Zumper National Rent Report. And the median sale price of homes in Portland is $332,600, according to Zillow.

Portland's zoning rules are also friendlier to tiny homes compared to other areas. There also are plenty of resources for tiny home enthusiasts — including lecture series and workshops — and the Build Small, Live Large small house summit was held in Portland in 2015.

Keep Reading: 10 Tiny Homes for Retirees

Photo credit: GOBankingRates.com/Courtesy of TinyHouseListings.com


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