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WHAT TO DO IF YOUR LANDLORD REFUSES TO RETURN YOUR DEPOSIT

So, it's time to move on up, or out, or over and your sweaty hairy landlord bwahahaha's at your request for your security deposit.  Were you counting on rolling that over to the next place?  Not so fast.

Looking at the Man in the Mirror

Hopefully you've taken Michael Jackson's advice and looked inward to change your ways long before it's time to move out.  If you've destroyed the apartment with keg parties, dirty dogs, mud wrestling in the 'living room' or any type of these college-age shenanigans let's be honest - you're not getting your deposit back and you don't deserve to get your deposit back. The bottom line? Be truthful with yourself. Did you cause damage? 

 

Now if you're among the young adult set who has scorged all of the youthful partying destruction from your veins and have lived in your home as a clean, responsible, pet-hair-removing, vacuuming, wall-hole-patching tenant and are simply ready to move on, certainly you deserve at least a portion of that deposit back.  You've cleaned the place over, chloroxed the fridge, scrubbed the grout free of your personal black funk, and cleaned around the toilet with an old toothbrush, you've spot cleaned the carpet with Resolve, vacuumed, and removed all remnants of your having lived there and Mr. Roper still doesn't want to let go of the funds?  Make sure you've followed these best practices.

Steps to Getting Your Deposit Back

 

1. Do a Move-In Walk Through and Take Pictures

This is a HUGELY important step but one often forgotten in the excitement of moving into your new place.  Try to schedule an in-person walk-through with your landlord.  If they do not agree to meet you, make an itemized list of any and all damage you see BEFORE moving in ANY furniture or belongings. Take a photograph to go along with each item you list.  Preferably, make sure the time and location stamp is on on your camera.  These steps give you proof that the damage was in the unit before you moved in.  Even if your landlord does agree to the in-person walk through, it is a good idea to make a list and have both you and the landlord sign it. Most landlords with experience will provide a check-in form to list damage.  

2. Before the Move-Out Walk, Thru Thoroughly Clean the Apartment

Do your best to leave the apartment in the same or better condition as when you moved in. This means that you should thoroughly clean all surfaces, cabinets, appliances, bathrooms, and living spaces inside and outside.  Avoid the walk through before this is done.

3. Take Pictures After the Apartment is Cleaned

Let's face it, every home experiences wear and tear. That's normal.  You may be able to work with your landlord to get touch-up paint or to get the carpets cleaned at your expense before the walk through.  Whatever state you leave the apartment in, make note of all damage and take corresponding pictures.  A video may work even better.  Prepare the list and photos for the landlord before the walk through. Also provide a copy of the original walk through list and photos. This accomplishes two things. It let's the landlord know you have done your due diligence and have left the home in great shape. It also clearly shows that you have taken responsibility for any damage you have done and that you have proof of exactly what that damage is.

4. Schedule a Walk Through WITH Your Landlord or their Agent

Hopefully you and your landlord get along and you can present the checklist and photos, go through it, agree on what needs to be paid for and be on your way.  If your landlord refuses an in-person walk through, mail the check list and photos via registered mail OR drop them by the office in person. Registered mail gives you a receipt to show proof of delivery. 

5. Return All Items Given to You at the Start of the Lease

Many leases state that you are responsible for the return of any items given to you at the start of the lease. This can include house keys, garage keys, security gate access cards, pool and gym access cards, etc... Whatever the case may be, make sure your return all items or be prepared to pay for them per the terms of your lease. Again, be upfront if you don't have an item.

6. Give a Reasonable Amount of Time for the Return of the Deposit

We all would love to get a check the moment you move out. However, the reality is that your landlord may own many units and they may all turn over at the same time.  As such, give the landlord a reasonable amount of time. 30 days is a good rule of thumb but many states have laws that set limits on how long the landlord has to return deposits. See the table at the end of this article for time frames described by law in each state. Note these are general time frames and, as with much of the legal system, there are exceptions and caveats that are beyond the scope of this article. Also remember, your landlord doesn't necessarily owe you the entire deposit back, but if they do not return it all, they are responsible for providing a list of charges and reasons.

7. Hire a Lawyer or Go to Small Claims Court

At this point you have done everything right. You have been diligent from day 1, you have kept track of damages, provided checklists, acted professionally toward your landlord and have not gotten a satisfactory response. It may be that your landlord is refusing to return the deposit at all, that he or she is overcharging you, or that he or she simply isn't responding. Whatever the case may be it is time to take legal recourse.  Most states, as mentioned above, have laws dictating time frames for the return of deposit money.  You must let this time period pass.  In most jurisdictions you can go to small claims court yourself, without an attorney, to settle the matter.  There is usually a filing fee of 50 to 100 dollars. 

Time Allowed for the Return of Deposit Monies or Reason for Charges

Alabama No deadline Alaska 14 days
Arizona 14 days Arkansas 30 days
California 21 days Colorado 30 days
Connecticut 30 days Delaware 20 days
Washington DC 45 days Florida 15 days
Georgia 30 days Hawaii 14 days
Idaho 21 days Illinois 30 days
Indiana 45 days Iowa 30 days
Kansas 30 days Kentucky 30 days
Louisiana 30 days Maine 21 days
Maryland 30 days Massachusetts 30 days
Michigan 30 days Minnesota 21 days
Mississippi 45 days Missouri 30 days
Montana 30 days Nebraska 14 days
Nevada 30 days New Hampshire 30 days
New Jersey 30 days New Mexico 30 days
New York No deadline North Carolina 30 days
North Dakota 30 days Ohio 30 days
Oklahoma 30 days Oregon 30 days
Pennsylvania 30 days Rhode Island 20 days
South Carolina 30 days South Dakota 14 days
Tennessee No deadline Texas 30 days
Utah 30 days Vermont 14 days
Virginia 30 days Washington 14 days
West Virginia No deadline Wisconsin No deadline
Wyoming No deadline    

 

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