How to Get Your Security Deposit Back: Tenant's Key to Success

If you’ve ever been a renter, you’ve likely paid a security deposit. Deposits can be steep! You probably really wanted the entire amount returned to you upon moving out.

If you’ve ever been a landlord, you were probably more than happy to give renters their money back—so long as they left your property tidy and free of damage upon moving out.

What Needs to be Done to Clean Up Upon Move-Out

Move-out cleaning will vary by property. Here are a few considerations:

As a landlord myself, I send tenants a checklist to outline my expectations. I share it below.

For renters, I highly recommend the following steps.

Do This When Moving Into a Rental

Protecting your security deposit starts at move-in. Once you get the keys, walk through the property and note items that need repair, anything that is broken, and other imperfections you come across. Take pictures. Email them to your landlord.

Some landlords will provide a move-in checklist. Don’t skip this step. Fill it out and be thorough. Your money is on the line!

Dated pictures and written proof detailing the condition of the property at move-in are great ways to ensure you don’t get dinged for situations beyond your control upon move out.

Do This While Living in a Rental

Report things that pop up while living in the property. If a handle jiggles more than it should yet isn’t necessarily something you need replaced, feel free to simply report it to the landlord.

Keep a log of anything that you report. Save emails between you and your landlord.

When the end of your lease approaches, remind the landlord via email about things you discovered and reported during your tenancy. This helps the landlord decide what they need to repair and should relieve you of being on the hook in terms of paying for previously reported, unattended to issues.

Do This Upon Moving Out of a Rental

Once you decide you’re going to move out, the first step is to inform your landlord. When doing so, I recommend you write to them and ask this simple question: I want to maximize my security deposit return. What can I do to ensure I get my security deposit back?

Simply ask.  This opens up the lines of communication, allowing the landlord to explain what they expect.

You can ask for your move-in checklist back for comparison purposes. If one is not provided to you, ask for a cleaning checklist. Sometimes it’s as easy as asking.

If you have pets and it smells that way, do what you can to ensure that’s not the case when you move out. In the past, I’ve had otherwise amazing tenants who had clearly gone nose blind. Their deposit return was dinged because I needed to place an odor bomb in the vent system to make the pet smell go away after they left.

Here is the cleaning checklist I so graciously took from one of Brandon Turner‘s articles a few years back. It has worked wonderfully for me, especially after my very first tenants didn’t do the best job cleaning up after themselves.

Move Out Cleaning Checklist for Renters