Tips on how to get back your security deposit

The advice I give to my AptStar clients is to take photos of the apartment on the day you are given the keys and before you actually move in.

Once you take photos of the apartment (and you might want to back this up with a video walk through) you want to email these to your new landlord or management company with a short note that reads something like this:

“I am attaching photos I took of the apartment because I want you to know I plan on taking good care of it and in two years, or three when I move out, the apartment will be in similar good condition.”

You really do not want to state the obvious. What you are doing is taking the first step to ensure you get back your security deposit at the end of your lease term. Security deposits can range anywhere from one month’s rent to as much as five (5) months for people who haven’t met the full requirements.

Normal wear and tear doesn’t count.

Apartments age just like everything else – so natural deterioration and decay from everyday normal use such as light scratching on the hardwood floors or the aging of kitchen cabinets don't count. That said things excluded from "normal wear and tear" would be deep scratches or groves on hardwood floors, as well as deep holes in the walls created by hanging a flat screen tv on them.

At the time you move out you want to do the following.

You want to take photos again of the apartment similar to the ones you took when you first obtained possession.

You want to invite your landlord to the apartment for a walk through BEFORE you relinquish the apartment and turn over the keys to the apartment to him/her.

Please note, however, that a landlord may not necessarily comply with this request. The responsibility for leaving an apartment in “good condition, minus normal wear and tear” is something that is left to the renter to figure out.

What to do if you think you believe your landlord has overcharged and over-deducted from your security deposit?

Sometimes if you had to make repairs yourself to the apartment because the landlord or management company didn’t respond in a timely manner – then this should be covered in your lease. You must take photos of the damage and keep meticulous notes and receipts to prove you repaired the premises and that it cost you a certain amount of money.

If sending these to your landlord does not solve the problem, you may want to take the matter to court.

Any amount under $5,000 that is being unreasonably withheld by your landlord from your security deposit can be taken to Small Claims Court.

For disputes with amounts over $5,000 you may hire an attorney and/or file a complaint with the New York State Attorney General.

How long should it take to get your security deposit back?

Your lease should have this provision as a “reasonable” amount of time which is normally interpreted as 30 days. There are, however, other leases that will state 45-60 days as “reasonable”.