Getting your security deposit back can be stressful with a problematic landlord. However, renters aren't without legal recourse.

When you rent a new apartment, most landlords collect a security deposit. This protects them against any damage that you might make to their property. It also provides protection if you decide to skip town without paying outstanding rent. When your lease ends you will get your security deposit back. However, not all landlords operate in full compliance with the law. Whether dealing with the best landlord or the worst there are some simple steps that will help you reclaim your deposit in a timely fashion.

Deposit Law

Laws vary from one state to another regarding the amount of time that your landlord has to return your security deposit. Most states do not allow your landlord to keep a part of your deposit for normal wear and tear that comes from occupying a rental unit. Many states provide you with an opportunity to sue in civil court those landlords who attempt to withhold your deposit in bad faith. Acquaint yourself with state and local laws regarding security deposits so that you know where you stand.

Deposit Deductions

Your landlord is allowed to make deductions from your deposit. However, there are generally two reasons for making deductions:

  • Damage to the rental unit
  • Unpaid rent

When your landlord returns the balance of your deposit, you must have a receipt sent with it. This receipt will detail how much was deducted from your deposit, as well as what the deductions are for.


Before you leave your apartment you should take pictures of the unit. This will act as proof that you did not cause any damage to the apartment. The more images that you have the better. Take wide shots, close-up shots and medium shots of things like the walls, appliances, the floors and the ceilings. Do this after you have moved all of your things out to get an accurate picture of what the apartment looks like.

This is also a good habit to get into when you move into an apartment, as it gives you “before” pictures to go with your “afters.”

Difficult Deposit Recoveries

You generally have to put down a large sum of money as a deposit. This makes a difficult experience getting your deposit back very stressful. Still, if a landlord is not returning your deposit, there are a number of legal channels that you can pursue to make sure that you get what you are owed.

  1. Send your former landlord a polite but firmly worded letter requesting the receipt of your deposit. Send this letter certified mail, with a return receipt requested so that you have proof that the letter was received.
  2. Photocopy the letter so that you have a copy for your records.
  3. When you get the return receipt, make sure that you keep the receipt. This is your proof that the landlord has received the letter.
  4. If your landlord does not receive the letter within ten days, send another copy of the letter, again by certified mail with a return receipt requested.
  5. If the landlord receives the letter but does not return your deposit inside of a week, you can begin pursuing legal action, depending on the state that you live in.
  6. You can pursue legal action in small claims court. Some lawyers will work on contingency. This means that they only get paid if you win your case. Additionally, a judge may find that the landlord is liable for your legal fees.

Security Deposits and You

You will probably not have any trouble getting your security deposit back. This doesn’t mean that it never happens, however. Making sure that you follow all legal procedures and have a thorough, working knowledge of relevant state and local law is the best way to handle getting the security deposit back when things get tough.