Getting your security deposit back can be easier than you think. We love sending our previous tenants a check for the full amount of their deposit because it means that they’ve taken care of everything that we’ve asked them to which translates into less work on our end to get that unit ready for the next tenant. Here are nine easy steps to help you get the most of your security deposit back.
put in the proper notice
California law mandates that you give your Landlord proper written notice of your intention to move. Typically, this is a minimum of 30 days, but some leases may require a longer period like 60 days. When you’re starting to think about moving out, re-read that section of your lease so you’re in the know on the length of notice you need to give. If your lease ends on August 31st and you forget to give your notice until August 4th, your Landlord can hold you responsible for the remaining three days of rent to complete your notice period. This rent amount is usually deducted from your security deposit refund.
We often get asked if you have to give your notice on the first or if you can give it any day of the month. We recommend putting in your notice as soon as you know that you’re moving – even if it lands in the middle of the month or if it’s 42 days before your lease ends. It’s ok to give more than 30 days notice as this gives your Landlord even more time to find another tenant.
give your notice in writing
Always put your notice to vacate in writing and have all tenants that are on the lease sign and date it. If you’ve got a great relationship with your property manager you may feel that texting them that you’re moving out or telling them in person is sufficient notice, but this is where problems can arise. To protect yourself, we recommend writing a written notice, dating it, printing it out, and delivering to your manager in person or via certified mail. You can even print out and sign two copies and have a place for the manager to sign and date when they received the notice. Then you’ve got a copy to keep for your records too. Keep in mind that you can’t back date a notice and try to slip it by your Landlord. The 30-day notice clock doesn’t start until your notice is actually received and the Landlord or manager acknowledges it.
request a pre-move out walk-through
After you provide your Landlord with your notice of intent to vacate, you have the right to request an “initial move-out inspection” of your unit to take place during the last two weeks of your occupancy. This provides you with a “heads up” on what your Landlord proposes to deduct from your security deposit so that you have the opportunity to complete the work and avoid the deductions. After the inspection, your Landlord should provide you with an itemized list specifying repairs or cleaning that is proposed to be deducted from your security deposit. Keep in mind that this list may not include any other items that could be deducted, such as damage to your unit that occurred after the inspection or that was not observable during the initial inspection (like a hole in the wall behind a sofa), the cost of missing keys or remotes, or defaults in payment of rent or other obligations under the lease. As always, make your request for an initial move-out inspection in writing.
remove all of your belongings
This may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised how often tenants will leave behind things like cleaning supplies, phone books, trash, curtain rods, shelving, mattresses, or unwanted furniture. Anything you leave behind, your Landlord has to get rid of or store which can result in deductions to your deposit. A good rule of thumb is to leave the unit how you first received it when you moved in. Your Landlord didn’t leave you cleaning supplies under the sink and a nightstand in the bedroom so make sure you take everything with you when you move.
remove any alterations you made
If you made any upgrades or alterations to your apartment during your tenancy, you will be responsible for restoring your unit to the condition in which it existed prior to the installation of such alterations. Don’t assume that because you “upgraded” the apartment your Landlord wants to keep it that way – unless the Landlord agrees in writing that you may leave your unit in its changed condition. A lot of tenants feel that they “improved” their apartment by adding customized organizers or a different color paint, but the truth is that your Landlord probably wants to keep every unit consistent and in a certain condition to remain neutral for future tenants. This includes that perky lemon-yellow wall you painted in the living room, pot rack you added in the kitchen, or ceiling fan in the bedroom. If you want to determine if they’ll agree to let your unit remain in its changed condition, ask for an approval letter during your pre-move out inspection.
clean your apartment top to bottom
If you opt to clean your apartment yourself, make sure you do a very thorough job or you could risk being charged to re-clean your unit. Tenants sometimes tend to overlook special details that professional cleaning services cover, like dusting the inside of light fixtures, washing the screens and windows, cleaning smoke detectors, or wiping down the baseboards and the outside of cabinets. You may find that while you’re busy moving into your new place, it may benefit you to just go ahead and have your Landlord’s cleaning company clean the apartment on your behalf, although keep in mind that this cost may be deducted from your deposit.
If you’re going to clean the unit yourself or hire your own cleaning crew, ask your management team if they have a checklist to follow (or use ours here) and don’t forget to also sweep out your garage and storage areas, wash down the patio, and steam clean the carpets. Tell your Landlord ahead of time that you plan on cleaning the unit yourself and provide a copy of the receipts to them when you turn in keys.
request a final walk-through
For the best protection, we highly recommend that you request to have a final walk-through inspection with your property manager on the actual move-out day after everything has been completely removed and cleaned. This should be scheduled in advance to make sure that a member of management is available and we suggest requesting it in writing when you give your notice or at least two weeks prior to your move-out date. At this inspection, your manager should be able to tell you any charges that they will deduct from your deposit.
return all keys & remotes
You are required to return all keys and other items issued to you at move-in or risk being charged if you don’t. This includes apartment keys, mail keys, trash keys, amenity keys/cards/ fobs, and/or garage remotes. Your unit is also not usually considered to be vacated until you return all of these items. We also recommend not just leaving them in your unit, but hand them to your manager in person in a marked and dated envelope so that they know which unit the keys are for when they take them back to the office.
forwarding address & return of security deposit
Always make sure that you provide your new forwarding address so that your Landlord knows where to send the refund check to. In accordance with State law, it should be mailed to you along with an itemized statement of the deductions to the deposit with receipts verifying the cost of repairs or cleaning if the total costs exceed $125. You should receive your check or statement within 21 calendar days after you vacate your unit.
We hope with these nine simple steps you’ll be on your way to getting back your security deposit and onto making your new place a sweet space.
What’s been your experience with your security deposit refund? Let us know in the comments below.