Robert and June Miller just got married and instead of rushing into buying a house the two decided to rent an apartment for a year and take their time to find the perfect house. Neither of them has ever had to rent an apartment before and the experience was an eye opener for both of them.
The Millers had no idea why they had to pay a security deposit and why they were told by their landlord that they will most likely get it back at the end of their lease agreement.
What is a security deposit and why are they required?
For many new renters this extra charge may come as an unexpected shock, as it did to the Miller’s. They had no idea that a security deposit was in fact a charge imposed by the landlord to protect him/her against possible tenant defaults.
A security deposit is an amount of money paid by the tenant to the landlord guaranteeing the tenant will conform to the rules outlined in the lease (i.e. paying rent on time, not damaging the property, etc.).
In most cases, the security deposit is due when the lease is signed and the first/last months rent check is made out. The landlord will hold the security deposit for the duration of the lease to insure against the tenant defaulting under the terms of the lease. Normal amount of “wear and tear” does not constitute damage for which the tenant would be financially responsible, but if there is significant damage done to the leased property, the landlord can withhold all or a portion of the security deposit to pay to repairs. Further, if the tenant has outstanding financial obligations to the landlord at the expiration of the lease (i.e., unpaid rent), the landlord can usually recoup that debt out of the tenant’s security deposit.
Each state has its own standard law for the reasoning and collection of a security deposit. For example, in California the landlord can use your security deposit to pay for expenses if you fail/default on your tenant obligations as outlined in the lease (i.e. not paying all of your rent before you move out or damaging the rental unit beyond normal wear and tear).
In Pennsylvania, the laws are slightly different, in that it is believed that the security deposit actually belongs to the tenant, but is held by the landlord for protection against damages or unpaid rent. Pennsylvania law also places a limit on the amount of a security deposit that a landlord may charge. During the first year of a lease the landlord cannot ask for more than two months' rent. If the tenants stay a second year, the landlord cannot keep the two month security deposit and must return any money over one month's rent which the landlord still has.
After the Millers realize that the security deposit is for the landlord’s protection they seem to be less leery of giving the extra fee. The Miller’s know that they are not going to destroy the apartment nor are they going to skip out on their lease so at the end of the lease term they will be getting the money back. There are several things that the Miller’s can do to guarantee that they get all of their security deposit back.
Before you move any furniture into your apartment, do a walk through of the place, you might even want to invite the landlord to this as you will be able to point out things and he will be there to witness it. Bring a camera and paper and pencil. It is extremely important to document fully any cracks, holes in the floors or walls, etc. Here are some key points to follow
Outline the exact condition you find the apartment in down to the slightest detail including chips in the paint, missing tiles, broken hinges or carpet stains. Take tons of pictures If your landlord cannot make it to this walk through, make a copy of your pictures and written documentation for your landlord to keep with your lease. You should also keep a copy incase the landlords gets ‘lost’. Ask for a receipt for the deposit and keep a copy of your cancelled check. It is very important not to pay the security deposit in cash as there will be no paper trail of you ever giving him the money.
The Millers realize that this is just an apartment, a place for them to live for a few months until they find a house that they both love, but they plan on taking care of it as if they actually purchased this apartment and are not just renting it. This is a pretty good idea, if you pretend that you “own” the apartment, it will be less likely that you will damage it. They also plan to pay their rent on time and keep a record of when they paid it along with a copy of the cancelled check. This is a good thing as you will have proof of when you paid and the landlord cannot keep your security deposit to cover “late fees” or any other kind of “fee” (make sure to read all the small print in your lease before signing it).
Taking care of your rental It is not hard to take care of an apartment as if it were something you owned. You should clean it regularly as you would anything else, this is also a wise choice if you live in the city, where possible insect or rodents. If something breaks, it is ok, but get it fixed do not wait until you move out. Depending on what broke, it might be covered in your lease and your landlord might be responsible for fixing the repair.
Now let’s just say, for the purposes of this article, that a year has gone by, the Millers lease is about to end, they have found a great house and are getting ready to move out of their apartment. There are some very key things that they need to do before they pack any of their stuff and move into that house. If they want to get that security deposit back, the Millers are going to need to do some work first, more work than before they moved in, actually. Here are a few guidelines (broken down into rooms of the apartment) to follow and you should have no problem getting your security deposit.
In the Bathroom
In the Kitchen
In the Bedroom and Living Areas
Don’t Forget To
The last word on security deposits
The very last thing to do, before you fall over from exhaustion, is to schedule another appointment with your landlord to walk through your apartment. Have on hand the written record and photographs that you compiled when you first moved in. Refer to your records for any preexisting damages so you do not get blamed for them. Create a checklist that you and your landlord can review during the walkthrough. If everything meets with the approval of the landlord, you and he/she should sign the checklist and both of you should retain a copy. Be sure to leave your landlord your new address if the deposit is not available immediately after your walk through.
The Millers followed these steps and were happy to receive their security deposit back. They cleaned, patched all nail holes they found and made the checklist. Once they were satisfied with their work, they called the landlord and scheduled the appointment. The landlord was pleased that they took such initiative and gave them a check for the security deposit amount.