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How To Get Your Security Deposit Back

Illustration about the security deposit being safely guarded
January 1, 2018 Washington DC

Many tenants end up learning the hard way: Getting your security deposit back isn’t automatic. Being informed not only by lease terms, but also local laws, along with some planning, tenants stand a good chance of receiving all or most of those funds when they move on to their next place.

Know the lease terms

Reading your rental agreement in full before you even move the first box into your new home is a good place to start. It ensures you understand the landlord’s rules and your responsibilities as a tenant and can follow them throughout your lease. Taking date-stamped pictures of any damage present when you move in can prevent future misunderstandings. It also makes sense to ensure any agreements with the landlord about issues such as painting, redecorating or replacing worn carpet are in writing.

When you first start thinking about moving out, re-read the lease agreement to refresh your memory on the guidelines for ending your tenancy and vacating the premises. How much notice you must give prior to terminating a lease (even if your lease is expiring or you are renting month to month), may depend on your lease terms and local laws. If you plan to leave before the end of the lease, you may be required to continue paying rent until a new tenant is found or the lease expires. You might also be responsible for the costs of releasing the property, making it crucial to work with your landlord and provide as much notice as possible.

Keep it clean

In all cases, prior to moving, you should clean the property as thoroughly as possible, removing all personal belongings, scrubbing the cabinets, refrigerator and other appliances and sweeping or vacuuming the floors. If your lease doesn’t make it clear what and how you are supposed to clean before you leave, it can be helpful to check with your landlord. Many will have checklists outlining their expectations, including things such as whether you need to have carpets cleaned.

Document your cleaning and repair efforts by taking date-stamped pictures or videos of the home to help in case of any disputes. If at all possible, tenants should be present at the landlord’s move-out inspection, where the landlord will inspect for any damages beyond normal wear and tear.

Learn the laws

Laws in many jurisdictions limit the security deposit that landlords may charge and regulate how funds should be returned to tenants. In Washington D.C., landlords may ask for a maximum of one month’s rent for the security deposit from the tenant. D.C. landlords must return the security deposit to the tenant within 45 days of the time when the tenant vacated the property, including interest earned on the deposit and an itemized list of any deductions for damages. Research security deposit laws and regulations in your local area to protect your money and know what to expect.

Lastly, leaving a forwarding address is key. Otherwise, your landlord won’t know where to send your check.

For additional information about security deposit return guidelines, you can look at these links:

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