Savvy Tenant – Protecting Your Money

Let’s talk about your security deposit.  You know, that thing that a landlord supposedly takes for something other than rent and then tries his/her best to keep, no matter how wonderful you are as a tenant.

In some cases, yes, that is true.  In others however, the tenant forfeits the security deposit by causing damage, breaking the lease terms, and in some cases simply not following the procedure necessary in your state to get the security deposit back, as outlined in the laws governing the residential  landlord/tenant relationship.

How can you get your security deposit back?


The Savvy Tenant’s BFF


In most cases your lease will specify a time-frame, often 10 days to 2 weeks,  in which you must report problems with your new home sweet apartment to your landlord. After that any issues with the place are assumed to be a result of your occupation of the premisis.

Most people think in term of large problems such as AC that doesn’t work, an oven that doesn’t get hot or door locks that don’t function as they should.  But that shouldn’t be the only focus.  Even the small things can become issues down the road.

Example:  My son moved into an apartment in which the draperies had damage from a previous tenant’s cat.  When my son moved out, the landlord docked his security deposit for the damages caused by my son’s cat, which never existed.

Had he taken pictures of the damage upon move-in, then he would have had clear documentation that would have been pursuasive in arguing for that portion of his deposit to be returned.

So before you move anything in look for damages large and small, including but not limited to:

  • cracks in windows
  • flaws in floor covering
  • chips, cracks, blemishes in countertops and sinks
  • peeling, chipped, stained paint
  • loose wallpaper
  • stains in tubs, sinks, toilets
  • the condition of the stove
  • outside issues with paint, dead plants, untrimmed trees.

I think it’s a good idea to have some overall photos of each room and the outside of the building, especially if you are renting a home or duplex with a yard.  Then if you get permission to paint the bathroom lime green as long as you return it to the original color before you leave, you have a frame of reference for what was originally there.

Some things you can’t take pictures of, such as leaking faucetts, sinks or tubs that don’t drain,  or electrical outlets and switches that don’t work (though a movies on the camera could work).  Put these items in writing, and be thorough with details.

Whatever you find, whatever you document, whether in pictures or writing, provide a copy of it to your landlord.  Then it is my personal preference, after transfering photos to a disk, thumb drive or a cloud, to take the SD card out of the camera, seal it in an envelope, mail it to myself, and then keep it unopened in a place off the premesis, like a safety deposit box.  The postmark will be testimony as to when the contents were sealed, and it is less likely that it can be argued that the pictures on it were altered by photo editing software, simply because you’ve taken the extra step to protect yourself.

Then print off two copies of the photos and/or written list.  One is for you to keep in your files for easy access and the other goes to the landlord.

Next up:  documenting approved changes


2 responses to “Savvy Tenant – Protecting Your Money

  1. Carolyn – You are providing clear and concise directions for anyone wanting to rent a residence. Over the years I’ve discovered the camera has always been my best friend. Each time I’ve made a move (and I’ve had many) not only do I phoptograph the location I’m leaving and/or going into but I also photograph everything I own (of value) before the movers pack it. The photos serve two purposes when it comes time to file a claim for damages: 1) I actually owned the item and don’t have to prove it with receipts and 2) The shape the item was in when it was packed at the originating location.


    • Carolyn Dekat

      Also a wise idea! My grandfather lost an antique moving between Pennsylvania and Oklahoma. Pictures would have been invaluable, but he didn’t have them.


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