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9 reasons tenants could lose their security deposit

by Sky

Posted on Thursday February 25, 2021 at 02:44PM in General

9 Reasons Tenants Could Lose Their Security Deposit

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When renting out a property to tenants, it is important to collect a security deposit before they move in. This security deposit is usually one months’ rent and is returned to the tenant under ideal circumstances. It is best to track the security deposit amount in a rental property management software like Schedule My Rent so that both the landlord and the tenant can see what the current balance is throughout the rental term.  Your tenants might not always get the full security deposit back. Here are a list of common reasons why landlords will not return part or all of the tenants security deposit.

  1. You didn’t read and understand the lease

    As with any legal agreement, it is essential that you read and understand anything that you are signing. You should go to an open house or showing of the unit before moving in. You must agree with and follow all clauses of the lease and if you do so your landlord will have fewer reasons for keeping your security deposit. Two important phrases in most leases that you should clarify with your landlord are “ordinary wear and tear” and “reasonable effort”. If your interpretations of these phrases differ, then you need to talk to your landlord about it before moving out to avoid losing your security deposit over miscommunication. It is also important to document how the unit looked before moving in to make the moving out process simpler.  You can store move-in pictures in Schedule My Rent.

  2. The lease is terminated or broken early

    Before you move out, you need to give your landlord at least 30 days notice. If you move out before the lease ends and do not give a notice, then your landlord is able to use the security deposit to pay rent that you were financially responsible for. There are some situations in which you are not responsible for paying rent if you leave the property.  There are also situations where the tenant may need to continue to pay rent until the property is leased again, for a certain number of months, or until the end of the lease. For these specific scenarios and more detail visit

  3. You owe your landlord rent

    When you sign a lease, you are obligated to pay rent each month. If you do not follow through on your obligation, your landlord is able to keep a portion, or all of your security deposit to pay rent. Nonpayment is considered breaking your lease.

  4. Damage to the property

    Damage to a property is different than normal wear and tear that is expected when living in a unit. For example, if your faucet is leaking, it is important to immediately tell your landlord in order for someone to repair it and so you can be reimbursed. If you wait, the repair can be considered longstanding and turn from a wear and tear situation into a damage that will be paid for out of your security deposit.

    Normal wear and tear on a property can include tarnish on bathroom fixtures, small amounts of dirt and dust, dirty grout, or a loose handle. Damages could include multiple or large holes in the walls, missing outlet covers, broken doors/windows, large stains or holes in the carpet, missing or damaged smoke or carbon monoxide detectors, etc.

    When you first move into your unit, it is important to document any existing damages that you didn’t cause. You can take photos or videos of any damages or wear and tear and a written record to protect you from liability for existing damages.

  5. Cleaning costs

    If you left your rental excessively unclean when you moved out, your landlord will be able to use a portion of your security deposit to cover cleaning costs. You are not expected to leave your unit in pristine condition, but when your landlord has to spend extra effort and money to clean up your unit for someone else to live in that you will be paying for the costs. If you leave one bag of garbage in your unit, it isn’t considered unreasonable. But if you have trash everywhere, stains in the carpet, food in the fridge, and any other unreasonable or expensive cleanups then it is considered excessive.

  6. Unpaid utilities

    It is important to always know the terms of your lease including any utility bills that you are responsible for paying. You should know about any fees including late payments on utilities, HOA fees, and out of date billing. If you do not pay your utility bills, you landlord is able to use your security deposit to do so.

    Some landlords state in the lease that they will pay for utility bills, but not extra charges if the utilities are used excessively. If your landlord is paying for your utilities, it is easy to slip into a habit of using them unreasonably. For example if you keep the thermostat at 83 degrees and raise the electric bill by $100, then that would be considered unreasonable and your deposit could be used to pay for the extra charges.

  7. Repairs without permission

    If you decide to make any unauthorized changes to your unit, your landlord will be able to use your security deposit to return the property to its original state. For example, if you decided to paint the unit without asking your landlord, your security deposit will cover the costs of repainting the unit back to its original color. Even if you believe it’s a great improvement, your landlord might not think the same. It is always best to ask your landlord before making repairs or improvements to your unit and only proceed if you have an approval in writing.

  8. You left things behind

    When you move out of a unit, make sure to throw away or take everything with you. If your landlord has to throw anything away for you, the costs will come out of your security deposit.

    On a larger scale, if you are guilty of property abandonment, your landlord will be able to keep all or most of your security deposit to cover any fees. Property abandonment is when you leave furniture and belongings unattended in your unit for more than 15 days. In most states, if your landlord has to pay someone to move out your furniture and clean up, the costs will be covered by your security deposit.

  9. You didn’t do an exit inspection

    Along with your initial inspection and documentation of the property, you should meet with your landlord for an exit inspection. Provide your landlord with the initial documentation as a reference so there are no discrepancies between your landlord’s report and your observations of the unit.

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