1. Move out and clean the apartment
Clean the apartment and follow any instructions in your lease for moving out:
- Move all of your items from the unit, and clean the unit thoroughly. This includes all floors, surfaces, refrigerator, freezer, oven, and bathroom.
- Check the written lease, if there is one, to make sure you have followed all of the instructions for moving out.
2. Take photos and do a walk-through with landlord
To avoid disputes about the condition of the apartment:
- Take photos or video of the unit before you move. For example, take pictures of every wall, room, and closet. The photos should be clear, dated, and kept in a safe place.
- Do a walk-through or inspection of the unit with your landlord, checking all of the rooms and discussing any damage. This will avoid arguments later.
- If your landlord refuses to do a walk-through, write up a list of any problems with the apartment when you move out. You can have a friend go through the apartment with you to witness any problems. You and your friend should then date and sign this list.
4. Send a demand letter
- If you do not owe the landlord any money, send a written demand letter by certified mail requesting return of the deposit.
- The letter should tell the landlord that they have 45 days to either return the security deposit or give you a list of how the money was spent.
You can use these programs to help you write the letter:
5. Decide whether to sue landlord
If you are owed all of the security deposit or some of the security deposit:
- If the landlord does not send you a list of repairs or expenses after 45 days, then you may file a case in small claims court in the county where the unit was located or where the landlord lives.
- You can sue your landlord to get back the amount of the security deposit that the landlord withheld, plus the costs of the lawsuit.
- If a local law applies, the court may require the landlord to pay you twice the amount of the security deposit plus your court costs if the landlord:
- Does not give a written statement describing any property damage or gives a damage statement in bad faith; and
- Does not return the security deposit within the 45 days. Whether you can get double the deposit and interest depends on what law or local ordinance applies.
- Before bringing a lawsuit, think about court costs, time away from work, and what the landlord could bring up against you. If you file a lawsuit, the landlord can also file claims against you for things like damage to the apartment, unpaid rent, and anything else that cost the landlord money.
Note: If the amount of money the landlord owes you is more than $10,000, you should speak to a lawyer about the case, instead of filing it on your own. The above steps only apply to cases for $10,000 or less.