On moving day, hauling heavy boxes and furniture may bring your mind to the rental deposit waiting at the end of the metaphorical moving tunnel. But you may also wonder if you took enough care to ensure you get that money back. Most problems with rental deposits come from misunderstandings, or lack of documentation on the part of the renter. From early on in your rental experience, it’s a good idea to start making a paper trail that can be referred to in the event of a miscommunication or an actual legal problem.
Making sure you get your rental deposit back from your landlord should start from day one, not in the last weeks of living in the rented space. When involved in negotiations and lease agreements, ask questions regarding the rental deposit. Find out what your landlord defines as normal “wear and tear:” living spaces are naturally damaged slightly, and such small repairs should not be deducted from your deposit. Also find out what other damages a landlord considers your responsibility: broken windows, burns in the carpets, and similar problems can be repaired using deposit funds.
However, don’t just discuss these points. Document them—take pictures of any damage that you notice on your first day and put them in a folder of important papers. Walk through with your landlord and point out anything you see that could be a problem, having him or her sign off them. Not only do you have evidence that those things weren’t your responsibility, but you can also begin any overlooked repairs.
Another important thing to do is be on top of routine cleaning. Good cleaning habits should be maintained wherever you live, no matter if the property is yours or someone else’s. In addition to cleaning, report any problems to your landlord as soon as they occur and document any payments you make if it falls to you. Keep receipts and invoices in your folder of important papers, and make copies to mail to your landlord. Helpful advice is to use certified mail, which a landlord must sign for. That way there can be no question that they received the mail, and you also have a copy for your own records.
Lastly, inform your landlord that you are moving 30 days before you plan to leave. It’s a good idea to set the move-out date on a day that rent is due. These 30 days also give your landlord a chance to find someone else to rent the space, and gives you a better chance for receiving all of your rental deposit. Some states allow landlords to deduct from your deposit if the space is not filled after you leave—another good point to ask your landlord about early on and to document for your records.
If after all of this the rental deposit doesn’t come, send a request through certified mail for your money and file it with your other documents. Usually these steps will be enough, but in the event that something has gone wrong, you’ll have all that you need for a suit in small claims court. However, if you’ve started working on securing your deposit early in the process, any problems should be minor in nature and easily solved between yourself and your landlord long before you can unpack your bags in another place.