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7 Ways to Get (Most of) Your Security Deposit Returned

The minute we fork over that lump sum at the beginning of our lease, we're worried (or we should be) about how to get a security deposit returned from a landlord.

Landlords are already keeping track of the kinds of costs they can deduct from your deposit, so you should equally as diligent about getting all, or most, of your security deposit back.

Here are a few tips you may want to keep in mind:

1. Inspect on Move-In.

Make sure you and your landlord are on the same page with an inspection of the rental unit before you move in. That way, you both can flag possible issues and avoid conflicts about what was there when you moved in versus what was your fault. As you will see later, landlords often refer to a move-in inspection when determining move-out deductions, so insist on having an inspection list and ensure that it is accurate.

2. Don't Do Damage.

There are rules about what deductions a landlord can make from a security deposit, and they differentiate between normal wear-and-tear and damage repair. A landlord can't make deductions for things like faded paint or worn floors or carpet that happen in the normal course of use. But they can withhold repair charges from your deposit for things like broken fixtures or clogged, stopped, or broken plumbing. Make sure you know the difference and avoid excessive damage to the rental unit.

3. Clean Like Crazy.

Do your best to maintain a clean living space during your rental term and make sure the unit is as spotless as possible when you move out. Chances are, a landlord may overlook issues with the space if it is sufficiently clean.

4. Ace the Inspection.

Your landlord will inspect your rental unit for damage repairs and cleaning requirements, usually after you have moved out. Some states have laws that allow you to be present during the inspection and you should take advantage of them if possible. Many landlords will refer to the move-in statement to compare possible damage and wear-and-tear, and if you can attend the inspection, you should have a copy so you can reference it as well.

5. Review Your Landlord's Deductions.

If your landlord makes any deductions from your security deposit, he or she must provide a detailed list of damages along with written evidence of the cost of the repairs. If you do not receive a list from your landlord, you should request one and review the deductions carefully.

6. Keep an Eye on the Clock.

Most states have security deposit timelines that require landlords to return a deposit within a certain number of days after a tenant moves out. Timelines can vary, and should be included in your rental agreement. Make sure the agreement adheres to state law and that your landlord abides by the timeline.

7. Legal Recourse.

If you landlord fails to give you your full or deducted security deposit, or fails to get you an itemized deductions list, you may have to take him or her to court.

A lawsuit for your deposit may be less daunting as it sounds -- many states have specialized landlord/tenant or small claims courts that can quickly settle security deposit disputes.

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