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How to Get Your Security Deposit Back

You've packed up your belongings and thoroughly cleaned the apartment, but you haven't received your security deposit. Legally, your landlord can only keep it for a few specific reasons. Here's how to make sure you get your money back.


  • Step 1: Fix any damage yourself to save money. If you put holes in the walls that will cost you some of your security deposit, patch it with spackling paste and paint it.
  • Step 2: Leave your forwarding address. It may seem obvious, but if your landlord doesn't know where you are, they can't send you your money.
  • FACT: In 2009, a couple purchased one of the smallest apartments in New York City for $150,000. It is 175 square feet and measures 10 feet wide by 14.9 feet long.
  • Step 3: Take pictures of the apartment before you leave -- ideally you should have snapped pics when you moved in. If your landlord claims you damaged his property and wants to withhold your deposit, you'll have photographic evidence to the contrary.
  • TIP: Most states -- such as Ohio, Texas, Colorado, and Florida -- stipulate that a landlord has 30 days to return a tenant's security deposit. Others, like New York, Wisconsin, and California, give landlords from 21 days to what is referred to as "reasonable time."
  • TIP: The rule of thumb is that renters should leave an apartment in the condition it was in when they moved in, minus normal wear and tear. Altercations often erupt over the definition of normal wear and tear.
  • Step 4: Roll up your sleeves and get to cleaning. Leaving a clean apartment when you move out is mandatory. If you have particularly messy kids or pets, it may be in your best interest to hire a professional cleaners.
  • Step 5: Read the fine print on your lease or rental agreement carefully. Know what it requires of you, and how it defines normal wear and tear.

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