Landlording & Rental Properties

How to Get Your Security Deposit Back: A Checklist for Renters

Expertise: Personal Development, Landlording & Rental Properties, Personal Finance
28 Articles Written
Female hand holding key house shaped keychain.

If you’ve ever been a renter, you’ve likely paid a security deposit. Deposits can be steep! You probably really wanted the entire amount returned to you upon moving out.

If you’ve ever been a landlord, you were probably more than happy to give renters their money back—so long as they left your property tidy and free of damage upon moving out.

What Needs to be Done to Clean Up Upon Move-Out

Move-out cleaning will vary by property. Here are a few considerations:

As a landlord myself, I send tenants a checklist to outline my expectations. I share it below.

For renters, I highly recommend the following steps.

magnifying glass looking into wooden blocks shaped like houses

Related: Five Ways to Eliminate Most Landlord/Tenant Adversity

Do This When Moving Into a Rental

Protecting your security deposit starts at move-in. Once you get the keys, walk through the property and note items that need repair, anything that is broken, and other imperfections you come across. Take pictures. Email them to your landlord.

Some landlords will provide a move-in checklist. Don’t skip this step. Fill it out and be thorough. Your money is on the line!

Dated pictures and written proof detailing the condition of the property at move-in are great ways to ensure you don’t get dinged for situations beyond your control upon move out.

Do This While Living in a Rental

Report things that pop up while living in the property. If a handle jiggles more than it should yet isn’t necessarily something you need replaced, feel free to simply report it to the landlord.

Keep a log of anything that you report. Save emails between you and your landlord.

When the end of your lease approaches, remind the landlord via email about things you discovered and reported during your tenancy. This helps the landlord decide what they need to repair and should relieve you of being on the hook in terms of paying for previously reported, unattended to issues.

clean-rental-property

Do This Upon Moving Out of a Rental

Once you decide you’re going to move out, the first step is to inform your landlord. When doing so, I recommend you write to them and ask this simple question: I want to maximize my security deposit return. What can I do to ensure I get my security deposit back?

Simply ask.  This opens up the lines of communication, allowing the landlord to explain what they expect.

You can ask for your move-in checklist back for comparison purposes. If one is not provided to you, ask for a cleaning checklist. Sometimes it’s as easy as asking.

If you have pets and it smells that way, do what you can to ensure that’s not the case when you move out. In the past, I’ve had otherwise amazing tenants who had clearly gone nose blind. Their deposit return was dinged because I needed to place an odor bomb in the vent system to make the pet smell go away after they left.

Here is the cleaning checklist I so graciously took from one of Brandon Turner‘s articles a few years back. It has worked wonderfully for me, especially after my very first tenants didn’t do the best job cleaning up after themselves.

Move Out Cleaning Checklist for Renters

chart of items to clean when moving out of rental in order to get security deposit back

Related: How to Be a Landlord: Top 12 Tips for Success

What Landlords Should Do When Renters Move Out

When renters give move-out notice, I provide this along with their move-in checklist and explain they should remove nails, fill holes in walls, and return all paint back to the color it was when they received the keys.

Landlords would also be wise to add pet-related or yard-related items to the move-out instructions, if necessary.

Here’s a note I include with move-out paperwork:

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Please allow ample time to perform necessary cleaning/repairs. Any repainting, repairs, cleaning, trash removal, and any other expenses associated with returning the condition of your home to your move-in condition will be deducted from your security deposit at a rate of $25.00 an hour.

Your security deposit will be mailed to the forwarding address you provide within 14 days [or however long according to local laws] after your move-out inspection has been completed. We expect you to return your home to the same condition as when you moved in.

If you have any questions, please call. Good luck with your move!

Has this ensured all rentals are returned perfectly? No, but it surely improves the odds.

Some tenants prefer to have someone else clean the property and have it charged to them, which is fine. Some tenants have left pet damages beyond their pet deposit and were subsequently billed.

However, all of these steps make certain everyone is on the same page.

For renters looking to maximize their returned deposit and minimize arguments with the landlord, living up to your end of the bargain is imperative. And for landlords who want to reduce their workload when tenants leave a property, being clear about your expectations up-front is paramount.

Transparency is key!

What best practice move-in/move-out procedures would you add to this list?

Let me know in a comment below. 

A longtime writer and consumer of all things related to the FIRE (financial independence retire early) movement, Sarah went from working 50+ hours a week to less than 20 thanks to her real estate investment portfolio and side passion projects. Investing since 2015, she reached financial independence in 2016 and was able to retire in 2017. Articles about her journey and information about her current projects have been published in LinkedIn, BiggerPockets, Kiplinger, and many other financial news sources. Prior to the FIRE movement, Sarah worked as a Program and Acquisitions Manager on various projects and started a successful, world-renowned non-profit organization. Today, she uses these skills as a real estate consultant to help others reach their FIRE-related goals on a regular basis.

    Denise Graves from Victoria, BC
    Replied 5 months ago
    I love this post with the emphasis on communication! I wish more people would feel more open to their landlord as simply asking about a thing can save so much hassle. I thought the note detailing any work that the landlord does being billed out at $25/hour was great, but myself I would leave out the part about painting. I have seen some “interesting” paint jobs and when a person is leaving, maybe feels rushed there could be brush strokes and roller touches everywhere. I am more than happy to do the painting if need be after someone moves out.
    Denise Graves from Victoria, BC
    Replied 5 months ago
    I love this post with the emphasis on communication! I wish more people would feel more open to their landlord as simply asking about a thing can save so much hassle. I thought the note detailing any work that the landlord does being billed out at $25/hour was great, but myself I would leave out the part about painting. I have seen some “interesting” paint jobs and when a person is leaving, maybe feels rushed there could be brush strokes and roller touches everywhere. I am more than happy to do the painting if need be after someone moves out.
    Steven Arthur from Las Vegas, Nevada
    Replied 4 months ago
    I thought the same thing Denise about asking the vacating tenant to paint before they depart. I used to be a professional painter but I don’t think I would be that picky about the quality of my work on my way out. Also, I have not heard of dusting down the walls. Seems I never got that memo this lifetime! Otherwise a great resource for making the transition as smooth as possible