Tenants should consider security deposits early

Ana Mihajlovic

During the exhausting process of finding the right apartment and moving in, the last thing on your mind probably is moving-out day.

But since the landlord does not know if you are “Mr. Nice Guy,” or “Mr. I’m Going to Throw Parties Here Every Night Guy,” chances are you will be required to a give a sizable chunk of your money for a security deposit. Assuming that you eventually want to reclaim your deposit and get a good reference, it is risky not to prepare for the end of your tenancy right from the beginning.

“The state you leave your apartment in will determine how much of the deposit is returned,” said Carol Crimi Szabo, Student Legal Services senior attorney. “Since it is a deposit, it is refundable upon termination of the lease, but only if there are no damages arising from the tenants’ occupation.”

The standard rule is that tenants are responsible for any damage that goes above normal wear and tear. Because “normal wear and tear” can be interpreted many different ways, disputes often arise.

Damon Hill, tenant landlord counselor with Fair Housing Services, said he receives more than 300 calls a month regarding tenant/landlord disputes.

“The problem in many cases could simply be avoided if students take precautions before signing the lease,” Hill said.

So before unpacking dishes and hanging pictures on the walls, Szabo suggested some steps students can take to ensure the return of their deposit.

Inspect the unit thoroughly before signing the lease.

Make a detailed report of what you find.

If you spot problems, describe specifically what is wrong.

Take pictures of the damage, if possible.

After the report is completed, both parties involved should sign it.

However, Szabo said students are often not aware of what they need to do to get the deposit back.

Senior nursing major Maggie Marx admits she did not know how to go about obtaining her security deposit after being let out of her lease early.

“When I was let out of my lease, my landlord never mentioned my security deposit,” she said. “I assumed that when the lease was up for the remainder of the tenants, I would get my deposit back. So when that did not happen, I thought he had 30 days or maybe even 90 to do it.”

However, Marx said the landlord was very accommodating, and she blames the problem on poor communication. Szabo said in many cases it is possible for misunderstandings to be completely avoided.

“First, you need to send a letter to the landlord with a forwarding mail address,” she said. “Then the landlord is obligated to do one of two things: give back the entire deposit or send a written, itemized statement explaining why he or she kept the deposit.”

If the landlord fails to do one of these things, students have the option of taking the case to small claims court.

“If you take it to court, you can demand to be repaid twice the amount of the deposit,” she said.

Another reason tenants fail to receive their deposit is not paying for rent. If a student neglects to pay for one month’s rent, the landlord then has the right to use the deposit to cover the cost.

“It is necessary to abide by the terms of the lease,” said Tricia Coffman, Whitehall Terrace Apartments manager. “When you sign the lease, you are agreeing to take care of the property and pay rent for a specified length of time, and this is what you should be doing.”

Understanding what you need to do in order to earn your deposit back will go a long way toward parting with your landlord on good terms, with your security deposit safely back in your pocket.

Contact international affairs reporter Ana Mihajlovic at [email protected].