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How to Get Your Security Deposit Back on a Rental

Home » How to Get Your Security Deposit Back on a Rental

When you rent, you put a good chunk of change down, in the hopes that you’ll get most of it back. Some landlords, though, are great at finding the loopholes that allow them to legally steal your money. That doesn’t mean bad landlords always win. California law is on your side, and if you follow a few steps, you’ll get your refund.

Start When You Move In

Before you move into your rental, do an inspection. Property management companies will likely have an inspection form, where you can note any damages and dirty areas. If you are renting from an individual, or if the property management company does not have such a form, note the damages on a sheet of paper, back it up with time-stamped photos, and have your landlord sign it.

Don’t Break the Lease

Pay attention to when your lease ends. If you have to move out before the end of the lease, communicate with your landlord, and offer to help find a replacement tenant. Even if your lease is up, and you’re on a month-to-month lease, you are obligated to give your landlord 30 days notice.


Even if you’ve never hired a cleaning service, it might be worth it now. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, here is a great video that highlights what landlords look for. As you might imagine, the more often you clean while you live there, the easier a moving out cleaning is.

Know What to Expect

Each state is different, but in California, a landlord has 21 days to send you your security deposit (note that your security deposit does not count as your last month’s rent). Make sure you leave a forwarding address. They must provide an itemized list of all deductions, along with receipts. They can deduct for:

  • The repair of damages that aren’t normal wear and tear
  • Unpaid rent
  • Cleaning, but only to make the place as clean (or dirty) as when you moved in

If you don’t receive your deposit in a timely manner, or if your landlord deducts for some things he shouldn’t, you can take him to small claims court (if it’s under $10,000). Make sure first, that you don’t have a mediation clause in your lease.

Featured image via Pixabay

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