Tenants should consider early security deposits

Bryan Wroten

Clothes? Check.

Furniture? Check.

New apartment? Check.

Security deposit from the old apartment? Umm …

The security deposit is often a problem for student tenants, but it doesn’t need to be. Carol Crimi, Student Legal Services senior attorney, said tenants need to take a few simple steps before moving into an apartment to make sure they get their security deposit back.

She said a number of cases that come to them for disputes between student tenants and landlords are about security deposits. She said if students follow a self-made checklist or one that Student Legal Services offers, the problems with security deposits could decrease.

“Students don’t adequately prepare from the beginning,” Crimi said. “Some landlords take advantage of that.”

She said students should walk through the apartment they plan to rent and make a list of everything wrong with the unit – even take photographs of them. She also said students should make sure they get a written record of the amount they paid for the security deposit, be it a canceled check or a written receipt if paying in cash or money order.

Most importantly, she said a tenant should give a written notice with his or her new address to the landlord before moving out. Within 30 days, the landlord must either send the security deposit amount in full or provide reasons why the deposit is being held.

Phil Siegel, manager of Eagle’s Landing apartments, said one thing he does to help tenants understand everything in the lease is have them sign extra papers that restate what is already in the lease. He said the addendums should help make clear what is in the lease.

“It helps a lot of people who wouldn’t understand (the lease alone),” he said.

As long as tenants take care of their apartments, there won’t be a deduction from their security deposit, said John Lowry, Summit Hill apartments property manager. He doesn’t charge for normal wear and tear in the apartment, such as marks on the wall or matted down carpet. He doesn’t even charge for holes in the walls from nails or pins from hanging posters.

He said he will charge if tenants do not leave the apartment as they came into it, such as not cleaning dirty ovens or not fixing broken windows. However, he said this is rarely ever a problem.

“In 19 years, I could say I’ve only held a couple of deposits,” he said. “Ninety-five percent never have a problem getting a dollar back.”

John D’Alporio, who oversees operations and management at Silver Meadows apartments, said most managers and landlords don’t want to withhold security deposits. He said it hurts their reputations because students will tell others students if a manager doesn’t return it, even if the reason is legitimate.

D’Alporio said he does what he can to make sure tenants get their deposits back. He said if the tenants give him enough notice before they move out, he will inspect the unit for any problems. If he finds something in disrepair not previously recorded in the inspection sheet from the move-in, he said they can fix it themselves and not have to worry about him taking money from the deposit.

Siegel and Lowry said they also allow tenants to clean and make repairs before moving out so they are not charged.

If a student’s security deposit is withheld illegally, Crimi said he or she can come to Student Legal Services for help. She said if the case goes to small claims court, the tenant can sue for up to twice the amount of the deposit.

To make sure there are no problems with the security deposit, Siegel said tenants should take care of their apartment.

“Treat the apartment like your home,” he said. “It’s your responsibility to make sure you take care of it.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Bryan Wroten at [email protected].