If you’ve ever rented a property (over a third of the US population currently rents!), you’ll know that moving out at the end of your tenancy can be a stressful experience: there are the removal costs to consider, the packing and labeling of countless boxes, the endless calls to utility suppliers, etc. But something that can cause the most undue hassle is trying to make sure you get your deposit back in full (and quickly).
A landlord should return a deposit within 10 days of you moving out, but some of the more demanding landlords may try to hold on to your cash for longer if they think they have reasonable grounds to do so.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do before (and during) your tenancy to keep your landlord on-side and ensure there are no lengthy delays getting your deposit back when you leave.
Document everything before you move in
When you get the keys to your new home, a landlord should provide an inventory (likely using a service like Mashroom) that documents every aspect of the property, including its contents and condition. Make sure you read this thoroughly, and ensure the landlord is aware of any additional imperfections not included in the inventory that you could end up being liable for.
It’s also a good idea to take photos of the property at the start of your tenancy. This will give you leverage if the landlord is haggling over your deposit repayment due to damage that wasn’t caused by you.
Check the terms of your tenancy agreement
It’s important that you know exactly what your landlord expects from you in terms of upkeep of the property, and this should all be documented in your tenancy agreement. Reading through pages of contractual jargon may seem like a slog, but you could be caught out at the end of your tenancy if you’re unsure of your obligations.
Before you make any changes to the property, check with the landlord first. Something as simple as hanging a few pictures could delay your deposit being repaid if this causes undue damage to the walls, so get the go-ahead before hammering in any nails.
Report issues and breakages straight away
To avoid additional hassle at the end of your tenancy, it’s best to report any issues or breakages to your landlord as soon as they occur. They’ll normally set aside some budget to cover reasonable repairs or replacements if anything goes wrong (providing it was out of your control). Alternatively, you may choose to repair or replace any damaged items at your own expense.
For extra protection, you should take out tenant insurance at the start of your tenancy (like that offered by Duuo, for example), as this will cover the cost of replacing your belongings if they break (or they’re stolen).
Clean thoroughly before you leave
Often the main cause of deposit disputes between tenants and landlords is property cleanliness (or a lack thereof). As a tenant, you’re expected to leave the property (normal wear-and-tear notwithstanding) in the condition that it was in when you first moved in. That means conducting a deep clean, ensuring walls, floors, carpets and any furniture and appliances are returned to their original states.
You might choose to hire a professional house cleaning service (this will come at a cost but will often mean you’re more likely to get your full deposit back) or you could opt to clean the property yourself.
Pay all rent and bills on time
This may go without saying, but your deposit repayment could be withheld if you have any outstanding rent or or bills at the end of your tenancy. In 2021, it was estimated that 5.8 million renters in the US fell behind on rent payments (in part due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic) and this is one of the most common reasons for a landlord holding on to a deposit.
If you’re worried that you might miss a rent payment, you should speak to your landlord straight away. It’s far better to be up-front about your financial struggles than failing to pay up on time and having your landlord chasing you for payment.
If you’re renting a property (or if you’re in the market for a new rental), follow these steps to ensure you have no awkward or protracted deposit disputes at the end of your tenancy. As long as you stick to this advice, your deposit should be returned quickly (and in full).