Want to know how to get security deposit back on your apartment? Then you’ll love these tips on how to get a full refund of your rental security deposit!
Whether or not you paid a small or large security deposit to rent the place you call ‘home’, nothing feels more like a sucker punch to a renter than when your landlord keeps your deposit after you move out!
The problem is very few renters are aware of their responsibilities and their rights when it comes to getting their refund. Following these steps every time you rent will make it easier.
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That’s where I want to help! Follow the following steps to ensure you’ll get your deposit back. Do these every time you rent and you’ll avoid a lot of frustration! You can grab this rental checklist as part of the moving checklist for renters bundle.
How to Get Security Deposit Back on an Apartment in Full
The key to getting a full refund on your deposit is to make sure you always keep your end of the contract and do the following as well.
1.) Pull out a copy of your apartment’s lease contract or rental agreement and review it!
Keep a copy of your rental contract handy and refer to it if you want to ensure you’ll get a full refund of your deposit back! You agree to certain conditions way up front, before moving in, so you need to go back and remind yourself of what those agreements are!
Don’t have a copy of your contract?
In Texas, your landlord is legally obligated to provide you with a copy of your executed contract (meaning it has been signed by all parties involved) no later than the 3rd business day after the date the lease is signed by all parties (see section 92.024 of the Texas Property Code).
If you have never received one, notify them you need it now and get it as quickly as you can. Don’t rely on them to tell you the terms of your contract. People can make mistakes, but your contract is legally binding, so you need to be aware of and familiar with the terms of it.
Check your lease contract to discover when your lease actually expires. All written contracts must detail a specific ending date (it’s not always exactly a year from when you moved in!), and some are even specific enough to give you a time: i.e. “Midnight on (date)“.
How much notice are you required to give before moving out of your apartment?
Check your contract.
The State of Texas requires that you give a full 30-day notice as a minimum; however, your contract may require more, and you must follow whatever you agreed to when you signed your actual contract. Lots of contracts now ask for at least 60-days written notice, and I’ve recently begun seeing contracts that require as much as 90-days!
If you don’t give the correct amount of notice, yes, the landlord has a right to charge you extra rent to cover the period, so this is one you need to know way in advance!
Before moving out, you are always required to give some kind of notice…even if all you have is an oral contract. Most lease contracts are written and will entail specific requirements about move out dates and obligations.
If you have one of the more rare ‘oral contracts’ or even if there is NO information detailed in your written contract, you must follow the requirements for the state in which you live. Here in Texas (where I am!), the base minimum requirement is a 30-days written notice.
Is part of your rental deposit non-refundable?
Check your contract for any and all move out requirements, while you’re looking it over!
Most contracts will have a section that states what you are required to do in order to receive a full refund of your deposit at move out.
This is also the place and time to note if any portion of your deposit is non-refundable.
Note 1: In Texas, if you have a pet deposit, it can state that part of it is a deposit, and part of it (or all of it!) is a non-refundable pet fee.
Note 2: No landlord has the right to simply forfeit or keep any or all of your actual security deposit without charging it to something – past due fees, rent you still owe, damages, cleaning, etc. – and then notifying you what it was applied to.
They can’t just keep it, so if you have a contract that says your actual security deposit (in part or in full) is non-refundable, it’s not a valid section of the contract, and you can easily fight it!
Pet Deposits VS Security Deposits
A pet deposit is different from your security deposit! They are NOT the same thing!
In most contracts today, Landlords will require an upfront pet fee (an outright fee that is non-refundable) or a pet deposit which most Landlords make partially refundable, and partially non-refundable.
Even though they are automatically keeping that money, you the Renter, are typically still fully liable for any cleaning, fumigation, flea treatments, etc. to the unit or damages that your pet causes. The pet fee, or the non-refundable portion of your deposit for a pet, is typically just that: a fee.
The Landlord gets to charge it and keep it just for the mere reason that they have allowed you to have a pet. Nice, huh?!
2.) Give Your Move Out Notice on Time and in Writing
Be sure to give your notice in writing, and get an acknowledgment back from the landlord!
This means, either hand in your notice in person and asked for a signed copy back, or send it through the USPS by certified mail with a returned receipt required. If you mail it, you’ve got to send it early enough to guarantee they will receive it on time, so you get full credit for the proper amount of notice.
3.) Provide a Forwarding Address
If you already know and have a forwarding address, provide it at the same time you give your notice to move out.
This is an important and REQUIRED step in the process, so you’ll need to do it at some point before you move. Texas law requires you to provide a forwarding address in writing to your landlord.
If you don’t have a new place yet, you can always open a PO Box or give them your permanent address – the address of your parent’s house, your sister’s, your friend’s – as long as you can receive mail there, but give them something, do it in writing, and get an acknowledgement back from the landlord!
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Some management companies even have a specific form for this that you can just fill out, but whatever you do, do not miss this step! You can easily change your address online at usps.com/move with the post office, but this does not notify your landlord of your new address.
Worst case scenario, if you fail to provide a forwarding address, the landlord is still required to send your move out statement to your last known address. Guess what? That means they are sending it to your old apartment or house that you just finished renting from them.
This can still work, if you bothered to forward your mail with the post office. The problem is (and you’ll know this, if you’ve ever forwarded mail before) there is no guarantee your mail will actually get forwarded.
4.) Ask for a Move-Out Checklist from your Landlord
Ask your landlord or apartment office if they have a list of items that are required to be done to get back your full deposit.
If they don’t have a written list, ask them what items they look for so you can be sure to take care of those items.
Even if they give you no list at all, the general rules for move out are these:
- Everything needs to be spotlessly clean or what is called ‘move in ready’ for the next tenant. Anything that has to be re-cleaned can be charged to you.
- All light bulbs must be working – yes, you the renter are responsible for burned out light bulbs.
- Batteries need to be replaced in smoke detectors.
- Carpet needs to be cleaned and any other cleaning items need to be completed, including cleaning your oven, microwave, sinks, fridge, toilets, and so on.
- Everything broken or damaged while living in the rental unit, including those cheap plastic blinds your landlord put up that attract every single speck of dust and then break the second you try to clean them off, need to be fixed. Yep! You’re responsible for either spotlessly cleaning them, replacing them, or fixing broken mini blind slats (it’s actually super easy to fix them!).
- Dust. Keep in mind that dirt is never considered normal wear and tear.
- Move everything out of your apartment. If you need moving boxes, here’s a list of where to get free moving boxes.
- Take out all trash and anything else that shouldn’t be there. Do not dispose of large pieces of furniture or mattresses next to apartment dumpsters either as many complexes can and will charge people who do so. Take them to the local dump instead.
And, here is one of the biggest areas where people make their colossal mistake – landlords are legally allowed to charge you for items that would be normal maintenance if you failed to turn it in to get fixed while you lived there.
The key is to be sure to turn in all normal maintenance requests during your stay so that your landlord is responsible for fixing them. If they don’t – you will have documentation that you turned the items in. This only works for items that they are responsible for – not for items that you actually broke or damaged.
5.) Schedule a Move Out Appointment and Be There for It!
Schedule a move-out appointment with your landlord so you can be present for the move-out inspection!
You have a legal right to be present when the move out inspection is done, so make the time to do it.
Be aware, however, that you may have to work your schedule to meet the Landlord’s schedule (they don’t have to work their schedule to meet yours…they just have to allow you to be there if you request it).
Also, be aware that items can still be added and charged to you even after an inspection like this, but it is typically unlikely.
In fact, Landlords are more likely to be more lenient and yes, nicer, when a tenant accompanies them on the move out inspection. It’s simple psychology…it’s harder to be mean or too picky to somebody’s face unless you’re just a heinous person.
6.) Move Out of Your Apartment on Time!
Be sure to move out on time!
Once you’ve given notice and your lease is expiring, most landlords will have your unit pre-rented to someone new (that is the purpose of you giving notice – it allows them time to find a new renter).
If you stay over your move out date, huge fees can be added on to you called ‘holdover fees’ – most landlords will charge daily, but if you’re in a student community where turnover times are extremely tightly scheduled, they can even charge you by the hour!
Yes, they are legally allowed to charge these fees, as long as it is outlined in your contract. It never hurts to ask for written verification from the landlord that they have received your keys and acknowledge the date you moved out.
7.) Wait for your Landlord’s Move Out Statement
Now…here’s a very important key to getting your full rental deposit back! Mark your calendar or put a reminder on your phone, because your landlord is required by law to send you a move out statement.
It doesn’t matter if you rented from a large corporation, a small corporation, or a private owner – no landlord is exempt.
In addition, your landlord has a very specific, state-mandated time frame for when they must send that letter out to you. In Texas, the landlord is required to be sure your letter is mailed and postmarked no later than the 30th day after your move out.
Every time I move, I set an alarm on my phone for the 30th day, just so it will remind me to watch my mail (if I haven’t received my letter already). Don’t react too quickly though!
There is no guarantee that you will receive your letter by that day, but your landlord must mail it by that day, so now, set your alarm to go off in an additional seven (7) days. Hopefully, within this time frame, you have received both a statement of move out and a refund of your deposit!
If not… be on the lookout for my next blog installment on what to do when your landlord has not followed through.
Didn’t have a deposit?
Your landlord is still required to send you a move out statement within the 30-day window after you have given up possession of your unit, and this is super important, even when you don’t have a deposit.
I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they moved out of a rental and never got a letter, living under the assumption that everything was fine, only to find out months, and even years later that they had a landlord debt on their credit!
You are actually more likely to have move-out charges if you don’t have a deposit because there is nothing in escrow for the landlord to apply your charges to, which leaves you with the full balance of anything they decide to charge you with.
Always, ALWAYS, ALWAYS be sure you get a move out statement from your landlord so that you know all debts that could be tied to your past rental are satisfied in full!
If you want a printable checklist for how to get security deposit back, as well as two other helpful moving checklists, it is included in this moving checklist for renters bundle.
At the end of the day, can I actually guarantee that you’ll receive a full refund of your deposit by following these steps? No, of course not!
There are too many landlords out there that either don’t know the rules or doesn’t follow them, counting on renters not to know their rights or assert them. The key is for you to do everything right on your end, and be prepared for some bumps along the road.
If you have followed all the steps exactly and got no refund, or feel like your landlord charged you for items you shouldn’t have been charged for, read my follow-up post about what to do when your landlord doesn’t refund your deposit to learn how to fight back! Or at least get what you’re due!
Elizabeth Morgan says
I can’t tell you how many times I hear people complain about how they’re not getting their deposit back. Most of the time it can be avoided! Since you have lots of experience in the rental industry, what tips do you have for rent increases and how to deal with those? We always dread when it comes time to renew our contract and see that rent is going to go up!
Jeni Ware says
Hi, Elizabeth! Rent increases are a little trickier because, while there are laws governing how and when a landlord can do an increase, there is no law (in Texas and most other states) about how much they can increase. A couple of basics…landlords are required to give a 30-day written notice, as minimum, prior to any increase taking effect, and unless the lease specifies otherwise, they can only increase rents at the end of a contract. Once you receive a rent increase notice, the best thing to do if you want to fight it is to ensure that you are an excellent tenant (rent always paid on time, rental unit cared for and clean), then make an appointment with the actual Community or Property Manager (try to get past the underlings!) and go over that history with the Manager. Show them how and why you are a good tenant and why they want to work with you to keep you. This tactic will usually work well with smaller companies and private owners, but most larger companies are doing increases ‘across the board’ and will not make exceptions to the rule, regardless of what a great renter you have been in the past. Fair Housing Laws say that what they do for one person, they must do for all and larger companies are less likely to take the risk of giving you a better price than your neighbor. In the end…the cost of living will always go up, so plan ahead, know you’ll have rent increases, and know how much you will tolerate before you feel you have to move to a new place. Thank you for your comment, and best wishes!
Elizabeth Morgan says
Thanks for taking the time to respond to my question. Very insightful!