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Top Reasons for Losing a Security Deposit

Without going into great detail to try and explain a rare breed of eccentric landlords that nickel and dime their tenants to death, this section will sum up the most common reasons why tenants lose some or all of their security deposits. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the obvious ones, because anyone can forget even the simplest of things. So here are the most common reasons why tenants lose some or all of their security deposits…

The Most Common Reasons Why Security Deposits are Lost:

  • Failing to Give Proper Notice

Prior to leaving, some state’s security deposit laws require you to give written notice to the landlord. These notice requirements vary from 30- to 60-days and are intended to prevent misunderstandings about your departure date and how much rent is owed (should it need to be prorated). A common mistake for some tenants in those jurisdictions that require advance notice to be given is to assume that when the lease is up, they can simply leave. The landlord may keep up to the equivalent of one month’s rent in certain jurisdictions (e.g., Houston) if you fail to give written notice before vacating. Just remember (regardless of where you live and the laws governing your tenancy) – it doesn’t cost a thing to give a written notice.

  • Unpaid Rent

Leaving early or breaking a lease altogether can cause your security deposit to be forfeited to cover the remaining amount due. If possible, you should try to avoid early determination by finding a suitable replacement to take your spot. Otherwise, you could be held legally until the vacancy is filled or the lease expires. Therefore, it’s possible you could be held liable for several months, depending on how early you to leave.

  • Cleaning Fee

“But it wasn’t clean when I moved in…” This is why you need to complain to the landlord immediately upon moving in if it isn’t clean or at least capture its condition on some photographic medium – because when you move-out, it’s too late. If the unit isn’t returned in its original condition, the deposit may be used to mop up the mess.

It’s best to ask your landlord what his or her expectations are regarding this very issue when you first move in. If not, you should at least give them a call before you move out to find out if they have any specific demands. Some landlords consider “clean” to be just removing your personal possessions, while others expect the carpet to be shampooed and the bathrooms disinfected with bleach.

  • Failing to Revert Back to It’s Original Condition

This is a hotly contested issue on both sides of the fence. Remember – any modifications to the rental unit have to be reverted back to its original state unless you landlord agrees to accept the changes you’ve made. This is why it’s always best to ask the landlord his or her feelings about your proposed modifications and whether they’ll accept them or require you to restore the unit upon moving out. You should then ask yourself if all of this work is really necessary and could you instead accept the unit “as-is…”

  • Damage

Think of damage as injury to the premises that goes beyond normal wear and tear. The basic principle behind “normal wear and tear” is to expect to see some minor cosmetic blemishes that occur naturally with time, when used in accordance with the manufacturers recommendations. Appliances, fixtures and hardware throughout the rental are all expected to be left in working order, devoid of obvious abuse or neglect. The longer you lease an apartment, the more wear and tear is expected, especially for carpeting and paint – just be sure to document everything. Damage is usually caused by a spontaneous event – such as spilt coffee, a broken window or a hole in the wall – and it needs to be taken care of before you move out.

  • Missing Items

To take or not to take? If the unit was rented with the coolest little light fixtures, make sure they’re still there when you perform your end of lease inspection. Yes, even potted plants and lawn furnishings must stay – they are not yours to keep! Once again, this is obvious – but everyone knows of someone whose prized salt and pepper shakers came from his or her favorite restaurant…