You’re moving on to a new apartment, and leaving the old place behind. But don’t run out the door just yet! There’s still a matter of the security deposit. When you were moving in to your current place, you might have struggled to scrape that deposit together, but since then you probably forgot all about it. Well don’t leave it behind, if for no other reason than you might need it to pay the security deposit on your new place.

Getting Your Security Deposit Back

Getting your security deposit back shouldn’t be too difficult. Normal wear on an apartment from everyday use is not covered by the security deposit. The deposit is meant to be used for substantial cleaning or repairs, or specific neglect or at-fault situations, such as a large hole you punched through the wall covered with a painting or the burns in the carpet from when you knocked over some candles. Since presumably you shouldn’t have let that happen, here’s what you need to do to get your security deposit back.

Fix Minor Damages

Maybe you missed the dartboard a few times, or hammered a few nails in a weak part of the drywall and made a bit of a hole. These types of things shouldn’t interfere with you getting your security deposit back, but why take chances? Get some caulk and plug up all those little holes, then sand and paint them over. If the job looks like it’s going to get too big, leave it alone. You don’t want to turn minor damage into major damage and then really have to forfeit that security deposit. Before you start any repairs, talk to your landlord. Some landlords have special rules about caulking to ensure that it’s done right and doesn’t require them to go behind you and fix your “repairs.” And letting your landlord know you’re making an effort to leave your apartment in nice shape can help lay the foundation for requesting your deposit back. Other small things you can easily fix or cheaply replace on your own are window screens (that your cat scratched up) and plastic light switch or outlet covers (that you cracked when you were moving furniture).

Do Basic Cleaning

Most apartments are expected to be left “broom swept,” that is, you aren’t expected to replace the carpeting or re-panel wood floors, but you shouldn’t leave debris on the floor either. Even though you’re leaving, make sure the place is as clean and neat as you can. Again, leaving a messy place is not a reason for forfeiture of your security deposit, but you don’t want to give your landlord any excuse to hold up the process. But if you want to ensure that you’re justified in requesting your deposit, do more than sweep. There are great all-purpose cleaners that easily remove ink, dirt, fingerprints, and shoe scuffs from walls and floors. You can use a little bleach to help clean caulking and drains. And don’t underestimate the power of a vacuum—you can vacuum window screens, window tracks, wall corners, floors, under the fridge, behind the toilet, etc. By vacuuming first, you save your lungs the trouble of dealing with sweeping, and you quickly determine which areas actually need scrubbing as well.

Bonus tip from an actual apartment landlord:  If you did spill a little candle wax on the carpet, tear off a piece of a brown paper grocery bag and lay it over the wax that is stuck to the carpet, then use a clothes iron on a low setting to iron over the paper on the spot. The iron will cause the wax to melt and the paper bag will absorb the wax and should also bring up most of the color. It’s not guaranteed to completely remove the stain of a red candle that has been ground into white carpet for a year already, but it can work wonders on most wax spills. Be patient, it can take several passes of the iron using several pieces of paper from the brown bag.

Hire Movers

If you have any big pieces of furniture to move, don’t try to be a tough guy and move it by yourself or even with friends. The main reason to hire professionals for those things is that they have insurance, and you probably don’t. If movers damage the apartment while they’re getting your stuff out, you can put the liability on them, not on your security deposit.

Ask for It

Make sure your landlord knows that you intend on getting that deposit back. If he wants to put it toward the last month’s rent, and that works for you, fine. Just make sure the landlord understands the arrangement and be sure you are getting what you deserve. If your landlord starts to offer excuses, make it clear that you expect your deposit back. Unless he or she can show you a specific damage assessment with a cost that meets or exceeds your security deposit, that is your money, and there is no reason at all you should not expect to get it back. And when you move into your next apartment, take a few minutes to document the condition of the apartment when you move in so that you have that to reference when you move out.

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