Written By: Dana K. Smith, Esq.
I get questions all the time from tenants about the return of their security deposit and whether the landlord can deduct a certain amount for repairs. Frequently, the landlord will attempt to keep portions of their deposit to repair conditions that may have existed prior to the tenant moving in. This post will hopefully provide some advice to you as to what you should do when you move into an apartment to protect yourself from that type of situation.
The first thing you should always do when moving into an apartment is to make sure to take pictures of everything. I mean absolutely everything. Whether it’s the bathroom, the kitchen, the bedrooms, or the hall ways, make sure to take as many photographs necessary to give you picture evidence of what the apartment looked like when you moved in. This is especially true for things in need of repair or any damages that may exist when you move in. The more pictures the better, as each picture you have can only help you later.
The reason for taking so many pictures is that when you move out, except for reasonable wear and tear to the property, you have a duty to return the apartment to the landlord in the same condition as it was when you moved in. Thus, if you have pictures the condition of the apartment from the date you moved in, if the landlord attempts to charge you for something that existed prior to getting there, you will have photograph evidence to refute any of potential withholdings. This can help prevent a lot of issues in cases where the landlord may try to keep some of your deposit.
Another good piece of advice is to make sure that should you find any conditions in the property that need repair or correction, write those issues down and send a letter to your landlord outlining each of the issues. Be specific and clear as to what needs repair. Just be sure that the written letter is provided to the landlord within five days of moving into the property. Anything after five days and the landlord could argue that those damages were instead caused by you.
Additionally, make sure that you list all of the conditions that need repair, not just the big things. For stuff in need of repair that you don’t list, the landlord can make the argument that you didn’t list it because it was not in need repair when you moved in. The best way to protect yourself is to list everything. Also, don’t forget to keep a copy of the letter for yourself as well. That way, if landlord attempts to withhold money from your security deposit when you move out for conditions that already existed, you will have written proof in the form of the letter you submitted to your landlord.
In closing, when becoming a tenant, you have to be proactive in protecting your interests. Your security deposit may depend on it. The two simple steps of taking photographs and providing a letter to your landlord will go a long way in making sure you get the full amount of your deposit back.