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How to Fight a Security Deposit Deduction

By Edward Tan, JD on May 30, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Moving into a new apartment can be a lot of fun. Everything is different and it can be exciting to turn a unit into your own cozy home. Moving out, however, can be a hassle. And nowhere is this more evident than fighting to get back security deposit deductions.

Not every landlord is an honest person. Sometimes, even if you clean a place from top to bottom, your building's owner will still find a way to take cash from your deposit. You have to accept and move on, right?


There are things you can do to get your full deposit back, starting with:

1) Research Before Moving In

Apartment hunting is no fun. Often, when prospective tenants finally find a place they like, their immediate impulse is to sign a lease and move in. Fight that urge.

Protecting yourself from unwarranted security deposit deductions starts before you move in. The Internet is your friend here. Look up the landlord, property management company, and whoever else you'll have to deal with once you move in. Google and the Better Business Bureau are two great places to start your research.

2) Read Your Lease Agreement

Watch out for terms like "non-refundable cleaning services." While they're generally legal, the term is a clear flag that a chunk of your deposit will be taken when you leave.

3) List Any Defects in Your Lease Agreement

Do a thorough inspection of the property and list any defects, damage, or general filthiness in your rental contract before you move in. Take pictures of problem areas and every room, and include them in your agreement, too.

4) Report Any Property Damage Immediately

If problems spring up that weren't your fault, let your landlord know right away. Not only are they generally required to repair them, reporting problems will also ensure you don't get nailed for them later when you move out.

5) Do an Exit Walkthrough and Get an Itemized Deduction Receipt

When you leave your apartment, clean it thoroughly and schedule a final inspection with your landlord. Make sure they point out anything they might cite as a reason for a deduction, and go fix it. Remember, normal wear-and-tear generally can't be grounds for security deposit deductions. Most states also require you receive an itemized receipt for any charges. So if something doesn't look right, use it to fight the subtractions.

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