Will I Get My Security Deposit Back? How to Guarantee It

Apartment renter holding security deposit money in hands while sitting on the floor

So you’ve decided it’s time to move to a different apartment, and you’re wondering if you should be getting your security deposit back from your landlord.  Everything comes down to this basic question…

Did you leave the apartment in the same condition as when you entered it?

Now, a lot goes into this assessment, and in the end, it is up to the landlord to determine if you are going to be getting your money back, or if they are going to be using it for damages. 

Entropy in the universe means that everything wears and tears as it is used.  Your car, your phone, your clothes, literally everything wears out at some point.  That’s just the way the universe is.

Thus, it can be difficult at the end of a lease to have an apartment that is relatively in the same condition it was when you moved in.   

Here are some of the most common causes that would prevent you from getting your deposit back, and some things you as the tenant can do to improve your chances of being reimbursed. 

Holes in the walls

Everyone knows that you want to make your living situation the homeliest you can make it.  That includes hanging pictures, posters, and other decorations on the walls.

However, this can be a major hassle for the landlord to fix once you decide to move out and they need to get your apartment ready for the next renter. 

Holes are very unattractive to the next people moving in and it causes apartments to be passed on by potential renters because it looks bad.   Your pictures may have looked good when they were hung up, but they become an instant eyesore once you take them off the wall.  

Another solution to all those little holes in the wall is: Patch the holes yourself.  Many times, you can get a little jar of spackle at your local hardware store or Lowe’s and patch the holes fairly efficiently yourself by just rubbing the spackle in the holes and wiping it down with a wet washcloth.  

Most apartment complexes also have gallons of paint just sitting around ready to be used on apartments that have been recently vacated. 

Ask your landlord if you can get a pint or two of this paint to touch up the spackle marks. Or, your landlord may just let it go if they see that you put in a decent effort to fix all those little holes you put in the wall. 

Now, if for whatever reason, you have put LARGER holes in the walls, you can pretty much guarantee that you are going to have this counted against your deposit. 

That means that the landlord is going to count against your deposit the drywall, the mud, the time to sand and re-sand, the priming and painting, and all the labor costs that go into repairing this.  

The best advice for tenants is this: DO NOT PUT HOLES IN THE WALLS.

The next major reason why your landlord isn’t going to give your deposit back is…

Your apartment is NASTY

Not everyone in this world has OCD on cleanliness or are minimalists.  But that doesn’t mean that you can just treat your apartment as a dumpster. 

Remember, you are RENTING this apartment from someone else who owns it. Thus, if they are forced to spend time and money cleaning up your mess, you are more than likely not going to be getting your deposit back.   

REMEMBER: Just as you want a nice, clean apartment to move into, the next person coming into your apartment is going to expect the same thing.

Keeping the carpet clean is probably the first and most important part of the cleanliness issue.   Carpets can get dirty fast and it is essential that you vacuum the carpet, don’t leave food on the floor, and basically treat the carpet like you would your grandmother’s.  Stains, tears, and a funky smell will all be reasons for the landlord to hire the professional carpet cleaner or even replace the carpet entirely to your unit to get it back to rentable fashion.  

A great compact easy to use a vacuum for an apartment is the Shark Rocket (Amazon Link). We absolutely love it because it works great and doesn’t take up a lot of valuable space in our apartment.

The other main issue is that your Bathroom and Kitchen are a disaster.  If the maintenance guy or cleaners that your landlord hires need to spend hours in your bathroom, scrubbing the toilet and bathtub and sink to get all the mold and grime off of it, that all costs money and your deposit refund will suffer because of that. 

A simple solution to this is to keep your bathroom clean.  Use shower spray like Clean Shower (Amazon Link) to prevent mildew and mold and clean your toilet and sink regularly.   These are all things that the landlord will look for.  

The same way with your kitchen.  If your sink is a disaster zone, and you leave a ton of perishables in your refrigerator, these are all things that the hired cleaners are going to have to spend time on cleaning up to get ready for the next renter. 

And there is nothing tougher to get out of an apartment than the smell of rotten food in the refrigerator.  

Any persistent smells or odors that you have put into the apartment, either due to smoking or uncleanliness and the manager is going to have to both repaint the apartment and have someone come in and clean the carpets professionally. 

You are looking at around $200 for the carpet cleaning and another $200 to prime and repaint the walls. 

Make SURE to keep your carpet as clean as possible.  Most apartment complexes have both vacuums and carpet cleaners on hand.  More than likely, they will be happy to bring one to you if they know you are trying to keep the apartment in good shape. 

This will also go a long way in goodwill with the manager at the end of your lease. 

The last major issue with potentially not getting your deposit back is……

Leaving Possessions In The Apartment

Everyone knows that moving is a stressful event.  And almost always, unless you are evicted, you are leaving the complex for a place you think is going to be better.   Whatever your reason for departing, leaving a bunch of your possessions is an easy way to lose your deposit.   

Clothes, knickknacks, furniture, and just straight-up junk are the most common items left in an apartment.  Anything you leave is going to have to be disposed of by the landlord, manager, or cleaners, and this all costs money.   

Leave a bunch of stuff in your apartment for whatever reason?  The complex is going to have to rent a Roll-Off dumpster to dispose of all of the items, not including the cost to unload it from your apartment and dump it. 

This costs hundreds of dollars and will virtually assure you that you will not be getting your deposit back.  

What To Do To Actually GET Your Deposit Back

For tenants, there are a couple of key things to do to greatly increase the probability that you will get your deposit back. 

The first is to make sure and take pictures of what the apartment looks like when you first rent.  This means that you take a dozen or so quality pictures before you move ANYTHING into the unit.  

This will give both you AND your landlord a great reference point when you are asking for your deposit back at the end of your lease.   If any discrepancy arises at the end of your term, you will have those pictures saved to compare it to the condition of your apartment when you leave. 

The second thing to do is to take GOOD care of your apartment.  Essentially, what it comes down to, is many tenants see their apartment when they leave it as being in just as good of conditions as when they first rented, but this idea can be misleading.   

Many times, it is like a frog in boiling water, where over time, the tenant doesn’t realize how downhill their apartment has really gotten.  This is where the pictures come in.

If you are taking good care of the apartment, and you have the pictures to back it up, you are going to have no problem getting your deposit back. 

If you can see the apartment may not be in the same condition as when you moved in, you will know exactly what you need to do to fix it. 

Simply the act of taking the pictures and showing that you are putting a conscientious effort into keeping your apartment decent is going to gain a TON of goodwill with the manager on your way out.  

Being a Great Tenant

As you are renting, you are going to be in contact with not only many of your fellow renters, but with the manager and maintenance people as well.

Being a nice, considerate, decent person is also going to weigh into how much leniency the manager gives you. Even if you have a few minor flaws in your apartment when you leave, but you were an excellent tenant who was nice and considerate to other people around you is also going to go a long way in just overlooking some of those blemishes.  

In the end, it is YOUR responsibility to get your security deposit back. That means doing the things necessary to ensure that your security deposit wasn’t just a long term donation to the upkeep of the apartment complex.

Keeping the carpets clean, the bathroom scrubbed, and eliminating holes in the walls is going to be the primary things that keeps more money in your pocket.   

Recommended for You:

How do I Negotiate My Rent Amount At An Apartment Building?

How Can I Pay For My Apartment?

What Are Move-In Costs? And How To Be Prepared For Them

John Boettcher

Co-Founder of Apartment School and a previous renter turned owner of many multi-family properties across the United States, with many years of experience in all aspects of the apartment, real estate, and investing world.

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