Tips to getting your rental deposit back
TENANTS usually pay anywhere between one and three months’ rent as a damages deposit, but are often unsure what they need to do to get it back when their lease ends.
“Although deposits are often used to cover rental defaults or unpaid utility bills, their primary purpose is to protect landlords against damage to the property,” says Andrew Schaefer, MD of national property management company Trafalgar.
“Tenants need to be aware of this, and since they may have quite a large sum of money at stake, they also need to know how to avoid being penalised for damage that may have been done by others, or may just be due to wear-and-tear, which is the landlord’s own responsibility.”
Most importantly, he says they will need a clear visual record of what the property looked like before they moved in, and the best way to do this is to inspect the property together with the landlord or agent when it is still empty and take their own time and date stamped photos or video of every room, and especially of any existing damage that they can see.
“If you are renting through a professional letting company, the agent will probably be taking photos during this in-going inspection anyway, but you should insist that yours are also attached to the lease agreement and signed by the landlord, so that all parties are on the same page when it comes to the movein condition of the property,” says Schaefer.
“This will really help to avoid disputes at the end of the lease, when a similar set of photos or videos taken as you move out will quickly reveal whether the property is still very much in the same condition, or whether there has been any serious damage done that you need to pay for.”
“There is, of course, still some potential for disagreement as landlord and tenant may not see eye-to-eye about the difference between damage and wear-and-tear, but generally speaking, landlords need to accept that carpets and curtains do get worn, doors and floors do get scuffed and paint does fade, and that they cannot hold their tenants liable for that.”
On the other hand, Schaefer says tenants will improve their chances of getting their deposit back quickly by taking the initiative to steam clean carpets ahead of the move-out inspection, for example, or patching any holes in the walls caused by removing artwork or a wall-mounted TV, and repainting those walls in the original colour.
Other things that tenants can do to ensure a smooth departure with their deposit intact include giving notice in plenty of time and in writing, so that the landlord is aware as soon as possible of their intention to leave and has the best chance of finding a new tenant before they go
“A vacant unit is one that is costing the landlord money, and the more you can reduce the possibility of vacancy, the better,” he says
In addition, Schaefer says tenants should try to be accommodating when the landlord or agent wants to show the unit to potential new tenants.
“Again, the easier you make it for the unit to be re-let, the less resistant your landlord is likely to feel about returning your deposit, and the more likely you are to get a good rental reference.”
As to the timing of any deposit refund, Schaefer says the law provides that when a joint outgoing inspection has taken place and there is no amount owing to the landlord for either damages or arrears, the full deposit must be refunded within seven days.
If a joint inspection has taken place and there is an amount owing to the landlord, the landlord has 14 days to obtain quotes and establish what it would cost to repair any damages, and refund the balance of the deposit to the tenant.
“It is also important for tenants to be aware that if they refuse to attend a joint inspection, they can be held liable for any and all damages to the premises, as well as any arrears,” says Schaefer.
“In such cases the landlord has 21 days to assess the damages and to refund the balance of the deposit if applicable. But if there is a shortfall, the landlord may also take legal action to recover it and the tenant would then also be responsible for those legal costs.”
Pay your last month’s rent
Many tenants see their security deposit as their last month’s rent. However, unless it’s explicitly stated in your contract, that frame of mind can hurt you. If your apartment needs cleaning or has been damaged, for example, the landlord can keep your security deposit and sue you for the rent that has gone “unpaid.”
Pay your last month’s rent on time and keep a copy of your cheque or request a receipt. Store the copy in a safe place with your exit notice. Make small repairs
Making repairs before moving out is a balancing act. Odds are that your landlord will charge you more to fix something than it would cost to do it yourself, but don’t overdo it. Only make repairs you can do quickly and cheaply. For example, don’t fix anything that came broken and don’t improve another person’s property for the sake of your security deposit.
Perform small and easy repairs, including the following: 1. Patch Holes. Use putty and some paint to patch up any holes you made hanging pictures or curtains. 2. Paint. If you painted any room in the rent
al, paint it back to its original colour. 3. Replace Light Bulbs and Batteries. Add light bulbs to any burned out fixtures and check the batteries in the smoke detector. 4. Make the Stove Look New. If you burned anything on the pans below the burners, replace them rather than clean them. These only cost a few dollars at a hardware store. 5. Make the Bathroom Shine. Use a bleach pen or white paint to touch up any stains or marks you caused in the sink or bathtub. Accidents happen and you may have caused damage that you can’t easily fix yourself. For example, when my very large dog was a very large puppy, she used the side of my closet door as a chew toy one day while I was out. It really wasn’t something sanding, painting, or even prayer could fix. Clean, and clean again
By law, you only have to leave your rental “broom clean.” Since broom clean is a highly subjective term, it’s best to err on the side of caution and leave your rental “brandspanking-new clean.” If possible, come back and clean after you move out. This way you’ll be sure to catch dust behind the couch and stains in the cabinets.
Do a full, top-to-bottom cleaning job. Start by dusting off the ceiling fans and don’t stop until you’ve mopped all the floors. Pay special attention to the kitchen and the bathroom as they get the dirtiest. Don’t forget the small things like cleaning inside appliances, dusting the blinds, and vacuuming the closets. Take your stuff with you
If you really want to irritate your landlord, leave some of your unwanted junk behind. More times than not, when I went into a vacant property for the first time, I found some of the tenant’s stuff. Sometimes it was small things like a box of trophies in the closet or a bag of Mardi Gras beads in the storage shed. Other times, however, I found full bedroom sets or broken appliances.
If you leave anything behind, especially something big, the landlord will have to hire someone to remove it, which will come out of your security deposit. Double and triple check storage areas, closets, drawers, and cabinets before you leave for the last time. Return your keys
Many tenants forget this step and it costs them. When you’re finally out of your rental, contact your landlord and set up a time to drop off the keys.
Make sure you give him everything you have, including gate and mailbox keys. Otherwise, the landlord will charge you a replacement fee for every key you take with you. Follow up
Landlord and tenant laws only protect your right to get your security deposit back if you request it. If you just let it go, you may never see your security deposit, and the sad truth is that some landlords get away with just not giving a deposit back.
If you haven’t heard from your landlord after 30 days, don’t be shy. Write your landlord a follow-up letter requesting your security deposit. Keep a copy of the letter in your “just in case” box.
If you don’t hear anything after a couple more weeks, go to your local court and file a civil suit. That way, a judge will decide how much you’re entitled to and will make sure you get it. Don’t forget to bring all your documentation to the courthouse.
Many renters struggle to come up with an entire month’s rent for a security deposit. While you may forget the pain of putting that much down by the time you move out, you are still entitled to your money. If you do your part, keep good records, and follow up, you should have no problems getting your security deposit back.
Landlord and tenant laws only protect your right to get your security deposit back if you request it.