With many tenants just moving into their rental properties for the first time, we felt it was important to go over some of the key ways to make sure you get your security deposit back before you get too carried away nesting and lose that security deposit forever.
The best way to ensure that you get your security deposit back is to document the condition of the rental property at move in. This will provide a base line of the quality of the property and will prevent landlord’s from blaming any previous damage on you at move out. We encourage tenants to use photo documentation along with a Move-In Check List.
The move-in checklist will help to ensure that no flaw is missed such as loose drawer handles, missing blinds or leaky faucet. However small, it is important to document so that charges don’t occurs later on or you could face losing part, or all, of the security deposit to multiple small repairs adding up on move-out.
On move-out, a similar moving-out check list should be completed and new photos should be taken. This is a tenant best defense if the landlord is claiming damages to the apartment or claims that the apartment was left in state the requires junk hauling or professional cleaning. The move-out photos will show the actual state the apartment was left in and move-in photos show the cleanliness standards the apartment was presented with.
Move-in and move-out checklist should be standard and are the first defense to protecting your security deposit. However, there are a few other down falls tenant can experience when it comes to the returning of their security deposit.
In most leases, there is phrasing about “Normal Wear and Tear” and this phrase has causes contention between many landlord and tenants. As defined by Georgia law, normal wear and tear is defined as, “A landlord cannot retain a security deposit to cover normal wear and tear that occurs because of the tenant using the property for its intended purpose.” However, this definition leaves a lot to be desired.
To provide a bit more clarity, there are a few examples of acceptable and normal wear and tear versus excessive tenant damage:
Normal Wear & Tear: A few small nail holes, chips, smudges, dents, scrapes, or cracks in the walls.
Excessive Tenant Damage: Resident’s Responsibility: Gaping holes in walls from abuse, accidents, or neglect. Unapproved paint colors or unprofessional paint jobs. Dozens of nail holes which need patching and repainting.
Normal Wear & Tear: Faded paint.
Excessive Tenant Damage: Resident’s Responsibility: Water damage on wall from hanging plants or constant rubbing of furniture.
If all the damage the rental property sustained is normal wear and tear then the landlord should return the security deposit in full. If the damage is more excessive, then the landlord is entitled to keep some, if not most or all, of the security deposit. So smart tenants will treat the property like it’s their own, being gentle on cupboards, doors and appliance to ensure the full refund of their deposit.
Also, many tenants think it’s okay to leave unwanted furniture behind, as they believe this will benefit the next tenant. However, this is one of the easiest ways to lose your security deposit. The landlord can actually charge a tenant for the cost of disposing of anything they left behind that was not initially in the property. As they are returning the property to the original state, this is total legal.
So, if considering leaving the book shelve or tv stand behind, it’s best not too or realize that this may cause you part of your security deposit. Unless of course, you have discussed this with the landlord about leaving certain pieces behind, and the landlord has agreed. Best to make sure you get the agreement in writing to prevent the landlord from changing their mind and charging you for the disposal of the left behind items. However, if you don’t want, mostly likely the next tenant won’t either, so generally better to just junk it.
Lastly, the law is in the tenants favor when it comes to the returning of the security deposit as the burden of proof will fall to the landlord. Specifically, the landlord is legally required to provide the tenant with an itemized list of what expenses the landlord is covering with the un-returned security deposit amount. This information must be presented to the tenant for their review and the cost of repairs must be fair and reasonable.
If a landlord is not returning the security deposit in full, they must provide detailed reasons to why and/or and itemized expense report. If this information is not provided within the time limited legally outlined by the local tenancy board, the tenant can pursue legal options to receive their rightful funds. So a smart tenant will know their local tenant rights and won’t let the landlord take advantage of their security deposit.