How to Make Sure You Get Your Renter’s Deposit Back

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Paying Rent

Moving out of a rental can be an overwhelming and daunting task. The prospect of not receiving your full security deposit back can add to that stress. Thankfully for renter’s, there are rights that protect you from having your deposit withheld. 36% of renters have reported that their deposit was withheld without any explanation, which is illegal in 47 states. With some research and a few simple steps during the rental period and moving process, you can increase the chances of receiving your full deposit back.

Know Your Renter’s Rights

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Familiarize yourself with state and county renter’s laws, not only before moving out but also before moving in. Knowing what your renter’s rights are before moving in can help assure that nothing happens during the rental period that will prevent you from having your deposit returned. Checking your rights before you move-in can prevent your landlord from overcharging you on the security deposit, most states have set limits on the amount. Many states have created guidelines for what landlords can and cannot withhold deposits for. Knowing your rights can ensure that your landlord isn’t taking advantage of you. By doing some research beforehand, you can get a better idea of whether your landlord will be honest and fair. This can help prevent renters from ending up in rentals with unlawful landlords.

Make Minor Repairs

It’s important to take good care of your rental if you want to receive your security deposit back. Despite efforts to care for your rental, minor damages can still occur. Normal wear and tear is generally not a valid reason to withhold your deposit. This is an added benefit of knowing your renter’s rights. Find out what your state or county considers normal wear and tear and fix any damages that fall outside of that scope. Completing your own repairs can be much cheaper than what a landlord will charge. If there are repairs that the landlord is responsible for, take care of them before moving out. This will help improve the quality of the space for your own benefit and will be a courtesy to your landlord to help the turnaround time for finding a new renter.  

Complete a Thorough Move-In & Move Out Checklist

Experienced and knowledgeable landlords should provide you with a rental inspection checklist when you move-in. If this has not been provided, you can request one or find one online. Completing a move-in checklist can prevent your landlord from holding you accountable for pre-existing damages. In addition to completing a checklist, take pictures and a walk-through video of the rental. Complete these same steps during move out. If you decide to take your landlord to small claims court over the deposit, this checklist, in addition to pictures and video will help guarantee that you’ve held up your end of the agreement.


Most states allow landlords to charge a cleaning fee for rental’s that have not received a thorough deep clean upon move out. This rate is usually much more than what you could hire a cleaning crew for yourself. If you’re really trying to optimize the amount of money you save, you can complete the deep clean yourself. A deep clean goes further than just sweeping and mopping the floors. This can mean moving and cleaning behind appliances, wiping down the exterior and interior of the fridge, dishwasher, oven, and other appliances. Think of how clean the rental was when you moved in and try to match that standard.    

Review Your Lease

Reviewing your lease before moving out can help prevent any misunderstanding or miscommunication between you and your landlord. The lease should indicate how much notice you need to give your landlord before moving out. Failure to inform your landlord in the appropriate amount of time could be grounds for withholding your deposit. Your lease should also indicate how many days your landlord has before they are required to return your security deposit. If these items aren’t indicated on the lease, it’s a good idea to create a written document, signed by both parties, detailing what the expectations are. Your lease should also cover any other expectations that your landlord has regarding the rental that could prevent you from receiving your full deposit.

Schedule A Final Inspection with Your Landlord

It is a good idea to ask your landlord to come by the rental to inspect it, prior to moving out. During the inspection ask your landlord to point out any damages that need to be repaired. This way you can take care of the repairs yourself without it affecting your deposit. Your landlord is not required to complete a walk-through with you but if they are willing, it can help prevent any misunderstanding after you move out. Keep in mind that if your landlord withholds your deposit, you have a legal right to receive an itemized list of the repairs and damages.  

Final Thoughts

Making sure you receive your full security deposit will require being proactive. If your landlord is difficult to work with and the sum of money is small, you may consider cutting your losses. If not, and you’ve taken the above action, there is always the option to take your case to small claims court. If you’ve done your due diligence the process should be relatively easy and there’s a good chance the court will rule in your favor. Keep in mind, that being a good tenant throughout your rental period can help make issues easier to resolve when the time comes to move out.

About the author: The above article “How to Make Sure You Get Your Renter’s Deposit Back” was written by Matt Edstrom, Chief Marketing Officer of GoodLife Home Loans. Matt completed his undergrad at MIT and his MBA at Northwestern University and has experience in real estate, marketing, and finance.