Getting Security Deposits Back: Avoid These 4 Mistakes

Sometimes you can't avoid doing a little damage to your apartment and losing some of your deposit money. But then there are people who take those screw-ups to the next level. These are the biggest mistakes people make that cause them to lose out on reclaiming their security deposits. The information provided here is for general information only and should not be used as legal advice.

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What Should I Do To Get My Deposit Back?

  1. Send a security deposit refund letter. Your landlord can't pay you if they don't know where you are, so make it easy to give you the money.
  2. Document the state of the apartment. Even if you didn't take pictures or video when you moved in, do so when you move out so you can prove what state you left things in.
  3. Clean everything. Don't give them an excuse not to return your money.
  4. Be realistic. You don't want to be tied up in court and stressed out for months over a trivial amount. If they're offering something pretty close to what you paid, you might want to take it.
  5. Don't pretend to be a lawyer. It's best not to threaten legal action. If you think you need representation, then do things right and hire a professional.

How Long Does My Landlord Have To Return My Deposit?

Rank by population State Deposit Return Deadline
1 California 21 days
2 Texas 30 days
3 Florida 15 to 60 days
4 New York Reasonable amount of time
5 Pennsylvania 30 days
6 Illinois 30 to 45 days
7 Ohio 30 days
8 Georgia 1 month
9 North Carolina 30 to 60 days
10 Michigan 30 days

Many states also have varying requirements regarding how tenants must provide written notice of vacating the premises, and how landlords must provide documentation of deductions. For specific information regarding your situation, consult an attorney.

The Deadline Has Passed. Now What?

If you gave your landlord the proper notice and provided a security deposit refund letter, it's now the landlord's responsibility. However, they may try to send you a lesser amount than you paid, or nothing at all. They're counting on the fact that you'll probably just take it to avoid the hassle. But there are laws in place regarding what expenses they can deduct and why, and when they have to send you documentation of those things. Make sure you know the laws in your state. If your landlord has violated those laws, you should seek professional help in order to reclaim what's rightfully yours.

Resources For Fighting Your Landlord

Rank by population State Resource
1 California Tenants Together
2 Texas Texas Tenant Advisor
3 Florida Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
4 New York Tenant Protection Unit
5 Pennsylvania PaLawHelp
6 Illinois Illinois Legal Aid Online
7 Ohio Franklin County Law Library
8 Georgia Georgia Legal Aid
9 North Carolina North Carolina Consumers Council
10 Michigan Michigan Legal Help

How Much Will It Cost To Get A Lawyer To Fight My Landlord?

Attorneys are generally paid in a number of different ways. One is by the hour, which can get very expensive if your lawyer has to come to court to represent you. You can probably find an attorney who will work on contingency, which means the lawyer only gets paid if you win a judgment or receive a settlement. In general, the attorney receives one-third of the money you get. You'll want to do the math and decide if it's worth it to hire an attorney in order to reclaim your funds.

What If I Need My Deposit Back To Pay The Deposit On My New Apartment?

In that case, you may be out of luck. The law allows your landlord time to determine the damages (if any) to the apartment before returning your deposit, and you'll probably have to pay the deposit on your next place before then. This is one of the things that makes deposits so troubling for many low-income people who can't afford to have two deposits out at once. One company, Obligo, is working toward a solution. Obligo is a startup that pays your deposit for you, then charges you a monthly fee. When you move out, they'll pay the damages, and then allow you to pay for them monthly. You might end up paying more in the long run, but for those who don't have the cash now, it may be a viable option, though it remains to be seen if this idea can work on a large scale.

10 Most Expensive Cities To Rent An Apartment In The US

Rank City State Median Rent For One-Bedroom Apartment
1 Danville California $4,361
2 Cupertino California $4,159
3 Melville New York $3,871
4 Los Altos California $3,864
5 Watchung New Jersey $3,684
6 Florham Park New Jersey $3,675
7 Edgewater New Jersey $3,624
8 Marina del Rey California $3,593
9 San Mateo California $3,511
10 Rancho Palos Verdes California $3,456

Information on more cities can be found at Apartment List.

Does My State Have Rent Control Laws?

Each state is different regarding the laws that govern how much a landlord may charge for rent, and how much a landlord can increase your rent in any given year. Because of growing housing markets in some cities, rent control has become a contentious issue. It's a good idea to know what the laws are in your state before you move in. You can consult this chart to find out more.

In Depth

Nobody likes losing money on a security deposit, and those fights with the landlord can turn vicious. Here are the four biggest mistakes people make that cause them to miss out on seeing their cash again.

Mistake #1: Don't live in Florida. Many states have laws that limit the amount a landlord is allowed to charge you for a security deposit, usually one to two months' rent. But Florida has no statutory limit, which means landlords can charge anything they want, and if you have bad credit, you might have to fork over quite a bit.

There are 23 states that have no statutory limit, including New York, where rents can be insane, but there's a lot of other reasons to avoid Florida, specifically the odds of having your face eaten by a guy on bath salts. It's safe to say that in many areas, the deposit alone might price you out of the neighborhood.

It's safe to say that in many areas, the deposit alone might price you out of the neighborhood.

It's even worse in Japan. In addition to a deposit, you might have to pay "key money" and other fees that can sometimes total more than six months' rent. And in many cases, you don't get that money back when you move out. Add that to the tiny apartments some people are willing to put up with in Tokyo, and it can definitely give Manhattan a run for its money. The real lesson here is that life is easier when you're rich.

Since these laws vary by state, it's a good idea to read up on the laws in your area. To get started on the right course of action to get your full security deposit back, use the steps laid out right beneath this video.

Mistake #2: Don't party like a rock star. There's a longstanding tradition of rock stars showing no regard for the rules in hotel rooms. Who drummer Keith Moon famously once did $24,000 worth of damage to a Holiday Inn after blowing up a toilet and driving a Lincoln straight into the pool. It's safe to say his 21st birthday was more fun than yours.

Who drummer Keith Moon famously once did $24,000 worth of damage to a Holiday Inn after blowing up a toilet and driving a Lincoln straight into the pool.

And then there's the case of "Fantastic Four" director Josh Trank, whose four dogs reportedly caused $100,000 worth of damage to the apartment he was renting. Hiring a pet sitter would have been much cheaper, especially since it may have led to his losing out on directing a "Star Wars" film. If you're going to wreck a place, you should at least do something cool.

After that last comment, we should probably mention that we aren't lawyers, and this isn't legal advice, but we do have some tips you can use to get that security deposit back. You can get started now, right beneath this video player.

Mistake #3 is failing to document everything. We don't want to encourage those people who film confrontations and put them up on YouTube, but they do have a point. If you have video evidence of how your apartment looked when you moved in, you can prove what damage you did and didn't do. If those champagne stains on the ceiling were there before you moved in, you'll have a record.

If those champagne stains on the ceiling were there before you moved in, you'll have a record.

You should also send the proper documentation to ask for your deposit back and request the money be sent to your new address. Your landlord has a set amount of time to return it to you, which is different in every state. Resources for drafting this correspondence are available at the link below this video.

Mistake #4: don't assume your landlord will be nice. Sure, he was friendly enough when you signed the lease, but there are countless examples of nightmare landlords lashing out at tenants. A Delaware man threatened to evict his tenants when they refused to date him. In England, a landlord threatened to pour super glue down a tenant's throat. And then there was the guy who shot his tenant's puppy.

You can't count on your landlord to do the right thing and give your deposit back, so make sure you're doing everything you need to do, including getting a lawyer if you need one. Our full guide to reclaiming your deposit is right beneath this video, so you can get started immediately.

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