My father and I own a duplex. As the landlords for our small piece of property, we have seen plenty of tenants come and go in our college town. Most have been great. A few were not. In our experience, we’ve found that some behaviors can almost guarantee that your deposit will be history.
For the uninitiated, a deposit is designed to provide the landlord a reserve to pay for a few small repairs that might be needed when a renter leaves. Most tenants leave a rental in good condition and there is little reason to dip into the deposit. Although laws vary by state, landlords are usually required to return a refundable deposit within a certain time frame or write you a letter detailing why all or part of the deposit is not returned.
Most landlords try to be reasonable. However, I do remember one who charged me $35 to clean the windowsills. Apparently, I had forgotten to wipe them.
As a young, broke student – poorer by $35, I’ve tried to get all of my deposit back. But, if you can spare it, here are a few ways to get rid of that pesky money:
Work on your car: It is likely that most landlords will frown on a tenant working on their car – or performing another messy activity – at the rental. Washing the car is one thing, changing the oil or swapping out the engine is another. Ultimately, if you don’t clean a messy spill like oil, your landlord will need to do it. That could cost you.
An annoying pet or owner: One tenant of ours owned a small, adorable dog that never had an accident and didn’t bark unless the doorbell rang. His owner, however, played with the pooch by throwing a red ball in the stairwell. When it was time to move, we discovered red marks that would not clean off and toenail scratches along the walls. The walls had to be repaired and repainted.
Let the water leak: Is the caulk on your tub cracked? Does the elbow below the sink drip? It’s OK to tell the landlord! Water damage can be costly to fix and the sooner it is caught, the better.
Leave your stuff behind: Did you forget that large, sectional couch in the living room or is it something you don’t want to move? If so, advertise it for free or donate it to a charity. The removal fee may come out of your deposit.
Leave it dirty: Did you remember to clean the stove and empty the fridge? Take out the trash and clean the bathroom? The rental’s condition certainly doesn’t have to be pristine, but the less for the landlord to clean, the more of your deposit finds its way back to you. A little elbow grease on your part will save you money in the long run. If you don’t have time to clean, consider hiring a cleaning service. It could be well worth it.
Leave without saying goodbye: Before you head off on your next adventure, spend a little time with the landlord. Walk through the rental together and make sure you both agree to its condition before you leave. Note any damages together and remind them of damages that were there before you moved in. You don’t want to be charged for those! Your landlord will take normal wear and tear into account. If you did create some new damage, take pictures and agree to a solution. Remember to repeat the walkthrough with your new landlord.
A little souvenir: It’s likely that the rental’s locks will be changed after you move out, but some places will charge you for the keys should you take them with you. Be sure to leave them with the landlord to avoid that expense.
Vanish: Your landlord will make every attempt to return the deposit owed you, but make it easy. Leave a forwarding address. You never know when you might need that landlord to give you a reference.