September 06, 2018

How to get your Security Deposit back – things to do BEFORE and AFTER you rent

Too often people move into a new apartment or other rental believing that they will be treated right, having faith in the landlord’s word, and not believing that they need to protect themselves. Renting a place to live is a business contract and you need to take steps to protect yourself.

  1. Sign a Lease. Make sure you negotiate a lease with the landlord. The lease should contain language regarding your security deposit and should identify the amount you paid. Make sure to read the lease before you sign it. Don’t be afraid to question the landlord about terms of the lease. This is an agreement that both of you will be bound to. Make sure you get a copy of the signed lease. Get a receipt for the security deposit you paid.
  2. Take Pictures. Before you move into the rental, take pictures. Take pictures of everything. Take pictures of the floors, the walls, the ceilings, the doors. If there is damage to the unit (i.e. holes in the wall, scratches, dents, missing tiles, etc) make a list and get the landlord to sign it before you move in.
  3. Follow the Lease. Often the lease will contain provisions about what to do to ensure the return of your security deposit. The lease may require you to report repairs needed within a certain time frame; make repairs beyond normal wear and tear; and give a certain amount of notice before moving out.
  4. Pay your Rent. Pay your rent. Pay your rent on time. Get a receipt for your paid rent.
  5. Give Notice. Follow the terms of your lease when giving notice to move out. Many landlords will require 30 days’ notice to move out, even when your lease is ending, or has already ended. Read your lease and follow the requirements.
  6. Clean Up. You must move all your belongings out, clean the rental, and take out all of your trash. You should run the vacuum, sweep and mop, clean out the refrigerator and other appliances. If your landlord is willing, get him or her to do a walk-through with you to make sure the place is cleaned to their expectations.
  7. Take Pictures. After all of your belongings are moved out, and the place is cleaned, take pictures of everything.
  8. Request your Deposit. If your landlord has refused, or you have reason to believe your landlord is going to refuse to return your security deposit, write the landlord a letter requesting the return with an itemized list of any deductions taken from the deposit. You should send this letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, if at all possible. Your landlord has up to 60 days from the date you vacate to return your deposit to you.
  9. Take action. If 60 days have passed and your landlord still has not returned your deposit or provided you with an itemized statement, you may want to sue the landlord in Magistrate Court for its return. You can find information on filing a lawsuit on our website at You may qualify for services from Legal Aid, contact our ATLAS intake line at 1-866-255-4370 to apply for services.