The Do’s and Don’ts of Getting Your Damage Deposit Back

Real Estate

Source: Zillow &

Tug of war with cashLandlords and tenants often disagree over what qualifies as inevitable wear-and-tear during move-out. Typically, reputable landlords don’t hold residents liable for minor wall scratches and scuffed floors. Even so, you can never be sure how reasonable a landlord is until your deposit is safely returned.

Each tenant and property manager is different, so we turned to personal finance writers to provide insight on their personal experiences with damage deposits.

1. Do you conduct an initial walk-through before signing a lease?

I have taken pictures when doing a walk-through of an apartment. It really has saved me later on when I moved out and the owner claimed I owed money for damage that was already there. If it weren’t for me taking these pictures, I would have been responsible for hundreds of dollars’ worth of stuff that was not my responsibility. There is no arguing with photographic evidence. — Natalie H.

I don’t recall doing an initial walk-through, only seeing an equivalent apartment beforehand. It was a fairly new complex, so there were no noticeable damages when we moved in, and we didn’t damage the property and received our deposits back promptly. — Lena Gott

2. In your experience, what are the most common damages you’ve made or seen in apartments?

The most common damages are usually stains to the carpet and screens. I also try to spot clean any stains on the carpet, so we are not charged. We’ve always been able to get the carpets clean enough before a walk-through to avoid any charges. Remember to agree to in writing who is responsible for cleaning the carpets when you move out. Repairing screens is something you can fix yourself easily and inexpensively before your landlord does a final inspection. — Toni Anderson

3. Why do damages sometimes go overlooked?

I think it’s easy to overlook the damage that occurs when a renter does not keep their home in a clean and organized condition. Some people are much harder on their living space than others, and you never really know whether you’ll get someone like that until it’s too late. — Holly Johnson

4. Any recommendations during move-in or move-out to help secure returned damage deposits?

Meet with the landlord on-site during move-in and move-out and get their assessment in writing of any damages they intend to levy. Also, check your local laws carefully to understand your rights. For example, rather than fighting in court with an old landlord over keeping part of my deposit for bogus pre-existing damages, I got them to return my money on the technicality that they didn’t give me timely notice of their intent to keep part of the deposit. — Wojciech Kulicki

5. Any rental damage horror stories?

When we were renting we had a hot water pipe (from baseboard heating) break around a faulty soldering joint. We weren’t home, and thousands of dollars’ worth of damage was done before we knew about it. The landlord was originally very accommodating but after everything was fixed tried to come after us for “damages” because he said we had something to do with the pipe breaking. — Catherine MacLean