Security Deposit Disputes

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Security Deposit Disputes

Oh My Apartment · Nov 9, 2009

When you move into an apartment, you usually have to hand over an extra check to your landlord: a security deposit. It may be the equivalent of a full month’s rent or it may be a little less. No matter what, though, it’s a sizable chunk of money that you’d like to get back when you move out. The problem is your landlord wants to hang on to as much of that deposit as possible when you move out. Since you’re on your way out the door, your landlord has little incentive to try to protect your relationship. You won’t be paying him any more rent, so why not make things difficult with a security deposit dispute?

Though the specifics of what expenses a landlord can use a security deposit to cover can vary from state to state, in general, the money can be used toward damages to the apartment, cleaning costs, and to cover fees related to an eviction. Disagreements often start with the state of the apartment when you leave. Most landlords expect a totally clean apartment. They’ll add cleaning charges for details like moving appliances and cleaning underneath them. They also expect no damage beyond normal wear and tear. It’s worth walking through the apartment at the same time you turn in your keys in order to make sure that it meets their specifications.

In most states, your landlord has a specific time period in which to return your security deposit or an itemized list of the charges against that deposit. The average is around a month, although you must provide a valid forwarding address or time limits do not apply. If your apartment manager keeps part or all of your security deposit but something seems wrong with the list of charges you receive, you can ask for receipts for cleaning bills and repair work. In the event that your landlord bills you for an amount beyond what your security deposit covers, receipts are a must. Some tenants will simply pay the amount requested in order to finish their move with minimal hassle, but there have been instances when unscrupulous landlords have taken advantage of this.

If you’re having trouble getting your security deposit back, you may choose to take your dispute to small claims court. If things progress to that point, it’s important to have clear documentation of every step you’ve taken to get your deposit back. It’s useful to have photos of the apartment as you left it, demonstrating the lack of damage and the fact that you cleaned it. It’s also important to keep copies of your correspondence with your landlord or apartment manager. Documentation can make a world of difference if you take your claim to court.

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