While this is not a legal guide to getting your rental security deposit back — there are plenty of legal guides out there for renters — this is a moral and ethical guide to help you make sure you don’t run into problem getting it back. Prevention is the best medicine when it comes to resolving money disputes like this.
Most of the time, it is possible to prevent conflicts over the security deposit through a common-sense approach to your relationship with your property owner or property management company. Yes, the money is yours; legally it belongs to you. But there are also conditions upon which you forfeit your right to get it back. That’s where the conflicts usually come in, because renters are not always clear on what kind of damage a property owner or property management company is allowed to keep the deposit for.
First, the reason for a security deposit in the first place is to guarantee that you’ll keep safe someone else’s property while you live in it. Obviously, then, there may be times when a renter hasn’t lived up to that agreement, and an owner then may have a legal right to keep all or part of the security deposit in those cases.
Let’s cover normal wear and tear. An owner cannot keep your security deposit for normal wear and tear in most cases, however, there may be a wide variety of opinions about what is “normal.” What is normal for one person may seem very abnormal for another. The key to understanding what consists of normal wear and tear is whether it is damage that arose from misuse or abuse of the property.
For example, if kids make marks with crayons on the wall, this is not normal wear and tear, even though all parents can attest that that may happen in the “normal” everyday life of raising kids. Nevertheless, it’s a parents responsibility to take care of the property, and they are responsible for the actions of their kids.
On the other hand, if the paint doesn’t look as shiny after you’ve lived there a year or two, that’s understandable and normal. Gashes in the wall: not normal. Flaking paint on kitchen cabinets: normal. The key, again, goes back to the question of misuse or abuse of the property.
The best way by far to ensure you get your security deposit back is the Golden Rule. Just remember that you are being loaned the property while you rent it, and that it belongs to someone else. If you’ve treated the property as if it were your own, it’s likely you’ve developed a good relationship with the property owner and the property management company. That trust you’ve earned by paying your rent on time and taking good care of the property will go a long way in making sure your security deposit makes its way back into your bank account.