Renters – have you ever moved and your stingy landlord drastically reduced the amount of your security deposit returned? If done legally, the landlord conducted a thorough inspection of the home and provided a detailed statement supported by written estimates or receipts for every dollar of your security deposit withheld. Some renters find it easier to let the landlord keep their deposit rather than spending time and money taking care of cleaning and repairs themselves. However, most renters want every cent of their deposit back. Allowing for reasonable wear and tear, keeping the home in good repair to maximize the amount of security deposit returned should be within the tenant’s control.
So, what is reasonable wear and tear? It is NOT damage and dirt. Carpet worn thin over time is a result of reasonable wear and tear. Carpet that is torn or stained is damaged. Wood floors with the shiny finish worn off due to normal foot traffic is reasonable wear and tear. Wood floors with deep scratches or gouges are damaged. The key to correctly labeling an item as damaged or simply worn is whether or not the condition was caused by normal use. A leaky faucet usually leaks because a gasket wears out. Gaskets are made of rubber or silicone that can only compress so many times before they wear out and are unable to seal the faucet. There is no way to damage a gasket, since it is located inside the faucet and turning the faucet on and off is a normal function. Carpets worn by normal foot traffic, leaky faucets and anything else that can simply wear out are subject to reasonable wear and tear and replacement should not result in a security deposit deduction. Damage the carpet or break the faucet by abnormal use and a security deposit deduction is likely.
Here are ten tips to help renters get more of their security deposit returned.
1. Get A Copy Of Your Move-In Inspection Report. Landlords, especially licensed, professional property managers, create a move-in inspection report based on a checklist. Make sure to get a copy. If the landlord has taken photos of the property, ask for copies of those, too, or take your own BEFORE you move in. If you disagree with the content of the move-in report, do so immediately in writing via email or letter.
2. Have Carpets Deep-Cleaned Annually. Carpets take the brunt of wear and tear in any home, but they also collect the most dirt. Dirt in carpets accelerates wear. Keep on top of carpet care by having them cleaned each year, including removal of stains.
3. Paint With Caution. Most leases allow interior painting with landlord approval of color and paint type. Approval to paint should not be assumed to include approval to leave without returning the room to its original color. When asking for permission to paint, confirm with the landlord if the new color can be left as-is at move-out or if the room must be painted back to its original color.
4. Fix As You Go. Don’t allow items needing repair to accumulate. Fix things you break or notify the landlord in writing of all items they are responsible to repair.
5. Remove Wall Anchors. All holes in walls resulting from nails or screws used to hang pictures, shelves or other items need to be filled and patched so they are invisible. One mistake many renters make at move-out is leaving anchors in drywall and painting over them. Paint seldom makes anchors invisible – they need to be removed and the holes patched and painted.
6. Clean Driveways/Parking Spaces. An area landlords are looking at closer these days are oil and rust stains in driveways and parking areas. Oil stains are not just ugly, they also accelerate deterioration of concrete and blacktop. Clean stains regularly and consider putting down mats made specially for absorbing oil leaks.
7. Hire Professional Cleaners. Most professional cleaning companies offer “move-out specials” specifically for renters. Some provide a guarantee that no part of your security deposit will be withheld by the landlord due to cleaning issues. The guarantee usually requires the home to be vacant so that furniture and personal items don’t hide areas that need cleaning.
8. Hire A Handyman. A good handyman can go through the home and take care of repair items before move-out cheaper than the guy the landlord might hire. Give the handyman your move-in checklist and ask for a full inspection and repairs. If you can’t find a handyman, ask your landlord if you can use his.
9. Take Advantage Of The Pre-Inspection. Some states, such as California, require that landlords notify tenants of their right to a pre-inspection before their move-out date. The purpose of the inspection is to identify items that could trigger reductions in the amount of security deposit returned. Take advantage of the inspection and address the items identified before move-out day.
10. The Final Inspection Is Final. Maybe. The final inspection on move-out day ends with the tenant turning in the keys. If the final inspection reveals items that need cleaning or repair that were unnoticed until that day, ask the landlord for permission to correct items within a reasonable period of time, perhaps that evening or the next day.
Don’t move out before your annual lease expires. An annual lease is basically a commitment to pay a year’s rent with payments spread out over 12 months. If you decide to break your lease by moving out before it expires, you could be liable for the remainder of the year’s payments.
Also, don’t use your security deposit as your last month’s rent payment. Most leases contain language that specifically cautions renters not to do that. If you don’t pay that final month’s rent and force the landlord to deduct it from your security deposit, you expose yourself to several potential problems, such as: a late fee being assessed for that month’s rent; being billed – possibly taken to court – should last month’s rent and move-out damages exceed the amount of your deposit; and finally, the landlord providing an unfavorable response when a future landlord calls to ask “did Dave always pay rent on time?”
One last thought. Landlords want to return 100% of your security deposit. They generally do not profit by keeping one penny – it all goes to contractors or suppliers. Repairing and cleaning rentals to get them ready for the next tenant takes time and increases the number of days the property is not generating rental income. It is much easier (and profitable) for landlords to simply write a check to return you whole deposit when you leave the place in the same condition you found it.
Have questions about getting your security deposit returned or real estate in general? Drop me a line!
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