Moving out of a rental? Here's how to get your security deposit back

April 24, 2020

Before you leave your rental home, follow this guide to get your security deposit back 


Couple cleaning their apartment to get their security deposit back.

You've packed up your last box, the moving truck is full. You've double checked to make sure you didn't leave anything behind - but what about your security deposit? If you've ever lived in a rental property, you know that it's one of the biggest concerns you have when moving out. But it doesn't have to be! Read on and we'll show you how to get your security deposit back.

Before you move

Repair, replace, and cleaning costs


As a good rule of thumb, you should assume that any cleaning or replacing that your apartment management company or landlord conducts is probably going to be more expensive than if you do it yourself. This, of course, isn't always the case, but if you handle it yourself, you have more control over the costs.

For example, rather than allowing them to choose a cleaning service, you can either choose to clean yourself and save money, or even shop for a cheaper option.

Additionally, there can be other fees and service charges added on which you can avoid by seeing to the process yourself.

Read your lease


Reading your lease will help you know exactly what your responsible for when moving out. It will also outline which repairs you're allowed to make and which ones require professionals.

It's also a good idea to read it to refresh your memory on the security deposit. Certain apartments or rental homes have portions of the security deposit that are not refundable. For example, pet deposits are often required in addition to your normal deposit, and they aren't always refundable.

However, even if some or most of your deposit is non-refundable, you should still do your best to clean and repair as much as possible to avoid further charges.

Talk to your landlord


Some apartments and other rental homes will actually require a preliminary inspection prior to moving out. However, if that isn't part of the move-out process, you should ask if they will conduct one. They'll walk through your place and point out things that might need to be repaired or replaced ahead of time. The hope, then, is that you'll be able to take care of them so that they won't have to.

You should also take this time to discuss any repairs you plan to do yourself. Remember, it's always important to run those things by your landlord or property manager to make sure it's okay. They may even be able to give you the name of the contractors they would hire to do it. You can then contact them directly for a quote and potentially shop around for a better price (if you don't plan on doing it yourself).

Repair and replace


Most of the time, items that need to be repaired or replaced aren't individually expensive. However, a few light bulbs here and a few holes there will add up and can certainly make a dent when you get your security deposit back.

Patch minor holes


While many leases allow for a small number of holes for hanging posters and pictures, it's still a good idea to repair them if at all possible.

Some people will recommend using toothpaste to fill these holes. While this certainly can work, it's probably not the best option and you can be fairly certain that the owner doesn't want toothpaste in their wall.

Instead, use putty or spackle and a putty knife to fill them in. You'll then have to paint over the excess putty or spackle, but the end result will be perfect and unnoticeable.

If you have larger holes, you may need reinforcement, but the patching process is largely the same. It may take a bit of time and effort, but it's much cheaper than paying a contractor to do it.

Paint walls to original colors


If you've added a little extra flair to your apartment by painting an accent wall, or even if you've painted all of the walls, you'll want to paint them back to their original color. Of course, you should make sure you have the approval of your landlord before painting in the first place.

You can also get a small can of paint to touch up any blemishes that might have occurred during your move-in or in the everyday wear and tear of living in a place. It's usually best to wait until after you've moved out your furniture to do this, just in case you bump anything while doing so.

Finally, always make sure to put down a drop cloth below the area you're touching up or painting. Paint can be difficult to remove from carpet, and you don't want to have to pay for a new carpet if you can help it.

Replace light bulbs and batteries


If you've replaced the light bulbs in your rental property, it's a good idea to swap them back when you move. Even if you haven't, you need to make sure that all of the light bulbs work. They'll charge you for each one that needs to be replaced, and it may not be the best deal.

Make sure that your smoke alarms also have batteries. Landlords might charge you to replace them if they are dead, and sometimes extra penalties and fees can be deducted from your security deposit due to fire department regulations.

Replace original fixtures


Beyond the items listed above, if you've replaced anything - such as a shower head or faucet - make sure to replace the original (hopefully you kept it). Just make sure disconnect the water supply to the faucet beforehand or, better yet, contact a professional to be safe.

Replace stove burner pans


These metal pans are used to prevent crumbs and pan drippings from falling beneath the stove surface. These can get quite dirty over the course of your lease and your landlord will likely replace them rather than cleaning each one. If you replace them yourself, it will likely be cheaper and it's one less deduction from your deposit!

Clean

Clean the carpet


Your carpet is potentially the biggest expense that can cause you to lose some or all of your security deposit and potentially put you on the hook for more. Because many rental properties, such as an apartment, have one, single piece of carpet cut to fit the entire floor plan, replacing it means replacing the entire thing. Even if you have some rooms without carpet, a single room can cost a pretty penny to replace.

Depending on how soiled or damaged your carpet is, a good, thorough vacuum may be all you need. However, if certain areas are worn from heavy traffic, or if you have significant stains, steam cleaning is probably required.

This is especially true if you have pets. It can be difficult to notice pet odors if you have lived with them for a while, but they can be very difficult to remove. Many steam cleaning services offer special services that use enzymes that can remove pet smells for good.

More than anything, steam cleaning makes a carpet look like new. Many management companies or landlords will likely hire a steam cleaning contractor, and they can be expensive. You can save money by renting a steam cleaner and doing it yourself, or by shopping around to ensure you get the best price.

Clean surfaces, counters, and appliances


Landlords and property managers alike will typically hire a cleaning service to prepare a rental home for the next tenant. Some of them charge a flat rate, but some charge based on which parts of the property they needed to clean. As you can imagine, this adds up and can take a large chunk out of your security deposit.

Before you say goodbye to your rental property, make sure to give it a good cleaning so that it shines like new! The cost of cleaning services can vary significantly, so you can probably find a good deal if you look.

Whether you hire a service or clean it yourself, make sure that every part of the property is thoroughly cleaned, including stove tops, toilets, sinks, bathtubs, windowsills, blinds, fans, and light fixtures. With so many places to clean, it can be easy to forget the insides of appliances, such as your fridge, stove, and microwave, so be sure to give them attention, too!

Don't leave anything behind


The moving process can often be frantic, and it's easier than you might suspect to leave personal items in random places. Check your closets, cabinets, porch, and drawers for anything you might have forgotten.

Obviously, you'll want to bag up any trash you find or create while cleaning and packing. But it's also important you remove everything, even if it's just a coffee table you no longer want. Depending on your lease, anything you leave behind could become their property. They'll likely just charge you to throw it away, and that will come out of your security deposit, too.

Ask your landlord or property manager to conduct a final walkthrough


When you're satisfied with your final cleaning, it may be a good idea to request a final walkthrough from your landlord or property manager. This can help you spot things you might have missed and ensures that you're in the best position to get your deposit back.

Before your next rental property


If your next destination is another rental property, make sure that do your own walkthrough as soon as you get the keys (before you move anything in or decorate). Most apartments and rental properties will provide a document and require you to perform this inspection within a certain period of time.

Document any defects or damage on this document, and take plenty of photos for your own records. Make sure you discuss each item with your landlord as soon as you can so that when it's time to move out again, you can be sure you get your security deposit back.

A rental property cleaned and repaired to get back the security deposit.

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by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.