How Much of My Security Deposit Will I Get Back?

Real Estate

Nothing is more stressful, for either the landlord or the tenant, than the end of lease conversations around the return of a security deposit. The tenant is worried about what the landlord is going to withhold, and the landlord is worried about the condition of the apartment and the oftentimes acrimonious conversations with the former tenant around condition of the apartment and the cost to make it rentable again.

This blog is for Tenants. What can you do to ensure you get most if not ALL of your security deposit back? There's a LOT you can do, and it all starts with treating the apartment with respect and care, just as if it were YOUR home!

State laws vary, but in Rhode Island the landlord has 20 days from the date she receives ALL keys back from the tenants AND a forwarding address in writing to return the security deposit less any documented expenses.

As a property manager I do not personally do final walk through with my tenants present. I advise my landlords to do the same, to do the walk through when the tenant is done and keys are returned. This lets the tenant take all the time and care they like to get their things moved and the apartment ready. It also lets the Landlord take their time with their walk through and make good notes and take pictures.

 As the Tenant it is YOUR responsibility to document the condition of your apartment/house within a week or so of moving in to your new place. Hopefully your real estate agent or landlord will have this mechanism in place but in the end you are the responsible party. You can use the one above, or you can Google a list that you like or you can just make good notes and take a lot of pictures. Whatever you do, be organized and make sure you have everything in writing.

Sample Condition Notes:

First floor bath caulk around tub discolored 

Middle window west wall of dining room - seal broken 

Once you make your notes (and yes, this takes time and attention) keep a copy for yourself and proof that you sent it to your landlord. If there are items that you've agreed the Landlord will fix, make note of that and keep a copy of anything you write to your Landlord. Some Landlords might think you're asking for all of these items to be repaired, so be thoughtful in your communications. Try something like:

Dear Landlord,

I'm sending you this condition report to make things easier on us at the end of the term. I/We love the apartment and look forward to a happy time here!

Sincerely,

Tenant

Moving Out

You should leave your apartment in the same condition in which you found it. The Landlord probably has another tenant lined up who may even move in the day you move out. Your apartment should be ready for the next occupant.

One misconception people have is that the landlord has a team of people at their disposal to come and clean up once you move. Cleaning companies are expensive. In my area, this year at least, cleaners are $25 per hour per person. A full move out clean which makes an apartment ready for the next tenant can take 4-8 hours at $50 per hour depending on the tenant.

I moved out of my 4 Bedroom 2.5 bath home and cleaned it (I thought) within an inch of its life and then had a cleaning company come in to do windows, blinds, the oven, scrub showers, etc. That took two people the better part of a day and cost me $300. That's for an already CLEAN house.  I saw another house where the owners clearly meant to not leave it clean (it was bad, the word filth comes to mind) and it took 31 hours of labor to clean that house, at the tune of $980.

You probably have the best intentions to leave your apartment clean when you move, but hauling boxes, coordinating utility companies, maybe having to clean your NEW place if that wasn't done right, all take a toll on your time and patience.

The biggest drain on your security deposit is cleaning. Consider hiring a company yourself so you can control that cost. Organize being out of your old apartment a day or two early if you can, so you have time to come back and really do the job right.

Common Security Deposit Deductions

Excessive holes in walls, or large (non-picture hook) holes in walls
Damage to paint from tape or hanging furniture/shelves
Dirty walls - usually from kids dirty hands, pets, grease or crayon/drawing
Patching - if you patch picture holes, you now have a perfectly good walk polka dotted with patches. That means it gets painted, and that's expensive. Walls are painted all or none, not patched.
Damaged trimDinged up trim from moving furniture is a common repair
Trim that has paint pulled off from Tape
Trash left in garage, yard, basement or houseDo NOT leave trash behind. It will cost the landlord money to have it picked up, sorted into recycle and trash, and hauled away. That will come from your security deposit
Dirty carpetsPay to have them professionally cleaned, or the landlord will make that payment for you and take it out of your security deposit
CleaningAppliances should be ready for the new tenantFridge and stove should be spotless
Food left in fridge will cost the landlord in labor, and come out of your deposit
Bathrooms scrubbed and ready for new tenant
Floors, walls and windows cleaned
All trash removed from property
ExteriorAll Trash Removed from Property
Lawn moved if Tenant responsible in Lease
Landscaping up to date if Tenant responsible in Lease
All pet waste removed from property
Garage and Basement empty and clean
Items in Need of RepairIf you have not notified the landlord of items that need repair in the regular course of the lease, you may find those items coming out of your Security Deposit when the Landlord finds them at move out date and has to scramble to repair for the next tenant
 

In the end, you are responsible for the condition of the property. If you feel the Landlord has unfairly withheld your security deposit or a portion of your security deposit, you can file a claim in Small Claims Court.