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When you move into a rental unit, the landlord will typically take a sum of money called a security deposit. This amount is sort of like collateral on a loan – the landlord holds it as security for the property, and when you move out, it’s returned to you.

Having said that, security deposits aren’t always returned. If you damage the property or fail to clean it after receiving notice, the landlord can use that money to correct the issues. If the amount of the security deposit is insufficient to cover the costs, the landlord can actually pursue you for the balance.

Here’s an example: As you’re moving your bed frame out of the unit, one of the corners scratches the wall. If you move out and leave the scratch, the landlord can hold your security deposit, call in a repair guy, get the scratch fixed and painted, and use the security deposit to pay for it. The landlord has 30 days to get the security deposit back to you if there are deductions.

Or let’s say you’re in a time crunch moving out and you don’t have time to complete every detailed thing on the cleaning notice the landlord gave you. She can hire a cleaning company and use your security deposit to pay for those services.

Maybe in the frenetic activities of moving out, you accidentally pay your rent late. You send in the regular rental amount and hope your landlord will forgive the late fee because it’s your last month. He can deduct the late fee from the security deposit.

Since the security deposit is used to cover so many things, most landlords won’t accept it as your last month’s rent. If they did, and you left the unit dirty or there were damages, the landlord would have to take the time to sue you for the money needed to cover those charges. That’s not beneficial for anyone.

If you want to see the full amount of your security deposit back, read over the condition report you created when you moved in and make sure everything is in the same condition when you move out. Take the time to clean all the items listed on the cleaning requirements notice. Your landlord will have only good things to say about you, and if there are no deductions, he’ll get you the security deposit back in 10 days. That’s a good deal for everyone.

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