All You Need to Know About Rental Security Deposits
by Thom Brown
If you’re a first-time renter, then you might be shocked to discover that your initial payment to your landlord is higher than expected. That’s because, on top of rent, you’ll often have to pay an apartment security deposit. This can seem daunting but it’s nothing to worry about. This is completely normal practice and something that renters have to get used to.
It helps to understand exactly how this process works, so here’s all you need to know about apartment security deposits.
What is an Apartment Security Deposit?
A deposit is a kind of financial guarantee. It confirms to the landlord that you will pay your rent and look after the property you’re staying in. This is a fixed amount of cash you give to your landlord along with your first month’s rent. While it can seem like a large amount to pay upfront, you should feel comforted knowing that it’s entirely refundable. Assuming everything goes well, you’ll get that deposit back at the end of your lease.
A security deposit is there to protect landlords from the costs incurred by bad tenants. They’re there to cover repairs, redecoration, cleaning costs, and any other expenses that a landlord shouldn’t be paying for. If you know that you’re a considerate and well-behaved tenant who’s willing to understand and follow the terms of your lease agreement, then an apartment security deposit is nothing to worry about.
What Does a Security Deposit Cover?
The exact terms of your lease will vary depending on what kind of apartment you’re renting and what’s expected in your local area. An apartment security deposit in Bali might be very different from one in Brooklyn. That’s why it’s important to get a copy of the apartment contract and go through it carefully. Make sure you understand exactly what to do in order to get your deposit back.
In general, a deposit is used to cover any costs you may incur to the landlord. If you break a piece of furniture, then the landlord will likely repair this using your deposit. If you repaint a wall when you’re not allowed to, then you’ll have to pay to paint it back. The deposit is also there if you fail to pay any bills or rent on time. Finally, the security deposit will cover cleaning costs if you leave the apartment in a dirtier condition than you found it.
What Isn’t Covered with a Security Deposit?
The security deposit is your money and is only there to cover costs that are caused by you (even if it was an accident). For instance, if your home is broken into, then you won’t be expected to repair any picked locks or smashed windows. When another person commits a crime against your property, they’re responsible for paying it and will be forced to do just that if caught. Also, if you have a roommate, then they should pay their own separate security deposit. If they’re the ones responsible for breaking something, then it is their responsibility—not yours—to pay.
Furthermore, if an item was already broken when you moved in, then you can’t be charged for its repair when you move out. A deposit is also separate from insurance. If items are lost or destroyed in the home, then the landlord may choose to replace them using money from their insurance company. It’s useful to check what your landlord’s insurance policy is. If they don’t have full coverage, then you could end up losing even more from your apartment security deposit.
When Do I Have to Pay My Security Deposit?
There’s no exact date that you have to send your deposit money to your landlord. However, in most instances, it’s required before you move in. It could be paid months in advance or the day before moving day. It’s rare that a landlord will let you move in until they have this money, though. That’s why it’s so important to check the full costs of moving to a new property before you decide to do so. Usually, you’ll have already paid the deposit by the time you sign the lease agreement. Often, you’ll do both simultaneously, though, so remember that once the contract is signed, you’re obligated to pay the deposit and all other costs.
There are many different ways in which landlords will accept your deposit payment. In developed countries, it’s usually done electronically using a credit card, debit card, or bank transfer. You may also be able to write a check if you’d prefer. In some less developed countries, the deposit along with rent may be paid in cash. Of course, this is a riskier method because there may not be a record of the transaction. Generally speaking, though, a deposit is paid electronically around the time of or just before signing the contract and being handed the keys.
How Much Will Your Security Deposit Cost?
There’s no exact amount that you’ll pay as a deposit but it’s generally related to the rental cost of the property. Unfurnished and furnished properties also come with different-sized deposits. Since there’s more to break in a furnished apartment, you can expect your deposit to be higher. As a general rule of thumb, it’s common for the deposit to be equivalent to one or two months’ rent. If you’ll be paying $1,000 a month for an apartment, then it’s usual to pay an extra $1,000 upfront, which will hopefully be refunded when you move out.
Many countries and U.S. states have a limit on how much a deposit can cost. For example, in Kansas, you’ll never have to pay more than a month’s rent for an unfurnished apartment. For a furnished property, it’s 1.5 months. There are 20 states with no limits, meaning you could theoretically be charged any amount. Most landlords, though, will stick to roughly the same figures as you’ll find across the country.
How Do I Get My Apartment Security Deposit Back?
In simple terms: stick to your lease agreement. If you haven’t broken, burned, or stained anything, then you should expect your deposit back quickly. When you move in, check the apartment thoroughly. Send photos to your landlord of any broken or stained items. Make sure this is done via email so that there’s a clear record of what you won’t be charged for. When you move out, be sure that you’re leaving the property as good as you found it, if not better.
Your lease agreement will state when you should expect your apartment security deposit to be returned. The limit can be as long as 60 days but your landlord may act a lot faster. You shouldn’t have to do anything but it might be worth contacting your landlord to ask when they’ll be returning your deposit. It’s their responsibility to get it sorted but it doesn’t hurt to remind them. Just remember to thoroughly clean your property before you move out. If you do find any broken items, accept that you’ll have to pay for them. You’ll still get the rest of your deposit back once the costs are covered.
What Do I Do if the Landlord isn’t Returning my Deposit?
We’ve all been there. Unfortunately, some landlords can be disorganized or just plain greedy. Luckily, the law is pretty strict about this stuff. If you’re owed your apartment security deposit, then you’ll get it back eventually. However, there may be legitimate reasons that your deposit hasn’t been returned. The first step is to contact your landlord and ask what the problem is. They may have found broken furniture or some other reason to withhold your deposit. Try and get as specific an answer as possible. Then, you’ll need to turn to your lease agreement, where it will specify exactly what a security deposit covers.
Be honest with yourself about whether you’re in breach of this contract. If you believe you have a legitimate case to dispute your landlord, then contact them and issue a seven-day notice. The legal action you can take will depend on which country you’re in. If you’re in the U.S., then you’re within your rights to sue your landlord in a small claims court if they haven’t returned your deposit within this seven-day notice period. The threat of legal action will be enough to convince most dishonest landlords to pay up quickly. If not, though, then the courts will come to your aid.
Hopefully, you now feel a lot more confident about paying your apartment security deposit. You should have a good idea of what your rights and responsibilities are as a renter. If you act maturely and responsibly as a tenant, you should see your deposit returned with no problems.
Where to next? Find flexible month-to-month rentals across the globe on Anyplace.
Born in Oxford, UK, Thom has been a digital nomad since graduating from the University of Sheffield in 2016. He’s a freelance writer and founder of Thom Brown Travel. Thom specializes in minimalist, ethical, and meaningful travel writing.