Security deposit: What it is and how to get most of it back

A security deposit is the money a landlord will take when you move into a new place. Some may break the deposit down into labels like “cleaning deposit,” “pet deposit,” “key deposit,” etc., but it’s all the same – you have to hand over a certain amount of cash in case you (or your pet) totally trash the place or miss a rent payment. Once you move out, you could get back most of your security deposit, if you follow these RadPad pro tips.

Make sure you get as much of your $$$ back as possible: 

1. Attend the landlord’s walk-through of your place. That way you can fix problems or do more cleaning instead of paying for those things out of your security deposit.

2. Speaking of cleaning, don’t over-do it. Your landlord will hire someone to clean the place before the next tenant moves in, so there’s no need to get crazy with the cleaning supplies before you leave. Basic tidying up should do.

3. Don’t leave anything behind. This includes garbage and that pizza that’s been in the fridge for two weeks. Waste removal fees can add up quickly.

4. If you have roommates but you’re the only tenant leaving, negotiate with the roomies or the landlord for early return of your part of the security deposit. Landlords technically don’t have to return the deposit until everyone leaves, so the easiest way to do this may be to ask the person replacing you to pay you the same amount you paid the landlord when you moved in.

The good news is that most states have strict rules for landlords on what they can keep from a security deposit and when and how to return it. If they don’t follow those rules, they can be slapped with a pretty big fine. The deadline for most states is two to three weeks after you move out.

Your landlord can use your security deposit to cover a few things:

1. Unpaid rent or other charges, like an unpaid water bill

2. Repair for damages you or your guests caused. Luckily this doesn’t include “ordinary wear and tear” – deterioration that occurs without abuse of the property. A scuff on the wall? Covered. A red wine stain on your beige carpet? Not covered.

3. Cleaning the place so that it’s spick and span for the new tenant

Your landlord is required to mail you an itemized statement, letting you know exactly where they used your money, and what they used it for. What happens if you think your landlord unfairly kept a portion (or all) of your security deposit?

Try to negotiate an agreement with your landlord:

1. Lay out the reasons your landlord owes you money.

2. If you have any letters or agreements that you previously discussed with your landlord, be sure to include copies.

3. Be very clear about what you want. Instead of saying, “I’d like more of my deposit back,” try “I’d like $250 of my deposit returned within 10 days.”

4. Take some time to do your research and quote from your state’s security deposit laws.

5. If worse comes to worst, tell your landlord you will sue them in small claims court if necessary.


Ideally, you’ve been the poster child for Renter of the Year and won’t have any problems getting back the amount you deserve. If you follow these tips, you’ll have enough cash returned to you just in time to cover your next security deposit – how exciting!

Scored big on your returned security deposit and ready to move out? Explore new apartments on RadPad!
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