Tips For Getting Your Security Deposit Back

Are you looking to find out how to get your security deposit back from the landlord? The security deposit is one of the most contentious subjects among renters and landlords.

When a renter is assessed fees for damages to the rental home or apartment, the landlord simply subtracts the repairs from the deposit. There is much confusion regarding what actual damages are. After all, the condition of residences will decline in everyday use.

Here are some great pieces of information every renter should know regarding the security deposit, and the specific set of laws that govern it in Massachusetts.

The Purpose of a Security Deposit

How to Get Your Security Deposit BackAlmost all landlords will require this form of payment. It is not to be used to pay rent. It simply is to be used to protect the landlord against any excessive damage caused directly by the tenant and their guests.

All states will have their own specific set of governing laws. In Massachusetts law dictates the following important criteria

  • The security deposit can be equal to the first month’s rent
  • It must be deposited in a separate interest-bearing account in the Commonwealth
  • The lessor must return the security deposit to the tenant, within 30 days after the lease is terminated. This is similar to landlords who oversee apartments in Austin, TX
  • The lessor must include an itemized list of damages
  • The lessor or landlord must swear in writing to the damages

Additional Information Landlords Must Provide to Tenants

Another law in Massachusetts requires the landlord or apartment manager to give the lessee a copy of the receipt after receiving the deposit. The date and description of the premises must also be included.

And there is even more.  The landlord must also relay what bank and the account number under which the deposit has been made. This must be done within 30 days.

Common Misconceptions

Your security deposit is not to be used for the last month’s rent. If you do, you want to make sure you have the go-ahead from your landlord, and that it is in writing. Most of them want to hold onto that deposit until they have had a chance to inspect the apt home after you move-out.

Many renters who don’t pay their last month’s rent, will wake up to the fact that not only won’t they receive their deposit back, their landlord may take them to court. This can result in late fees, fines, and even worse, black marks on your credit report.

What the Tenant is Not Responsible For

It’s reasonable to suspect that after living in a rental home for a year, the residence will lose its luster and/or start to wear.  Landlords are aware, and cannot deduct for “normal wear and tear”. Nor can they deduct for pre-existing conditions.

For example, if there is a chipped tile in the bathroom before the tenant took possession of the rental, charges should not be incurred by the lessee.

There is much debate on what constitutes normal wear, and what doesn’t. Let’s go over some examples to clear up any confusion.

The following are going to fall under the category of normal wear. By no means is this a complete list.

  • Lights stains in the carpet
  • Worn carpeting from everyday use
  • Small scratches in the wood floors
  • Paint peeling away from the walls
  • A few small tack holes from hanging posters or photos
  • An air conditioner that doesn’t cool as quickly as it used to
  • Faded curtains resulting from direct contact with sunlight
  • Blinds that have accumulated dirt

When it comes to damage and abnormal wear, here are some samples:

  • Punch holes in the walls
  • Cracked or chipped tile in the bathrooms
  • Cracked or broken windows
  • Appliances that are non-working due to negligence
  • Heavy stains in the carpet that will require replacement
  • Cigarette burns
  • Non-working dryer due to negligence

The landlord realizes that after you have lived in the home for 12 months or more, that the condition of the home won’t be the same after you move out. What they don’t expect is damages to the residence. So expect to be assessed fees for anything that is damaged and needs to be repaired. If the damages exceed your security deposit total, you will have to pay for the additional amount as well.

Pro Tip: It’s always a good idea as a tenant to take some photos of your place before you sign the lease. The landlord may actually give you a move-in checklist. This will give you the opportunity to list any defects you see in the rental. This falls under the pre-existing conditions discussed earlier. Be sure and take photos, and keep it for your records.  You may need them later.

If your landlord doesn’t follow the law, here are the next steps to get your security deposit back.

Schedule a Walk-Through

Not required by law, but recommended by many professionals includes contacting the manager or landlord, and scheduling a walk-through. This simply allows you to get an idea of what damages if any, you will be responsible for. Sometimes gray areas do exist, and it helps to get some feedback.

Remember that your landlord is not required to honor the request. If this walk-through is scheduled, additional damages may be itemized and deducted from your security deposit, even if they weren’t pointed out to you at the time of the walk-through.

Some professionals recommend that you have the residence professionally cleaned before move-out. But this is not a requirement. The landlord surely would look upon this favorably, but in no way does it prevent deductions to be made from your security deposit if damages exist.

After you move out of your rental, the landlord must return your deposit, or provide an itemized list of charges within 30 days, if they are keeping some, or all of the deposit.  They must also provide the receipts for the repairs conducted.

What if I Disagree with the Amounts Deducted

Sometimes events occur that we don’t agree with. Try contacting the landlord over the phone or make an appointment to see them. Explain your side of the story. Hopefully, both of you can come to an agreement.

If not, your next option may be to send them a demand letter. Here are the points you will want to include.

  • Indicate the purpose of the demand letter
  • Include facts, figures, and photos
  • Tell them exactly what you want
  • Use Massachusetts state law to convey your reasoning
  • Indicate you will take them to small claims court if not resolved.

As you can see, a landlord simply cannot keep the security deposit without providing a thorough list of records including receipts used for repairs.

Other Helpful Rental Resources

  • Watch out for rental property scams – just like every other part of life, there are always scams lurking at every turn. There is no exception for rental properties. See what you need to watch out for in this helpful article from ABODO.
  • Best tips for finding a rental – see some excellent advice on how to go about finding a rental property you will love. The article at Huliq provides some super advice to make your search go quicker and more smoothly.

About the author: The above article on getting your security deposit back from a landlord was written by Andrew Reichek. Andrew is a real estate broker in Houston, TX. He and his team of agents have been helping hundreds of customers find and secure homes and rentals in Houston and Dallas, TX since 2010.