Security Deposits 101

Security Deposits 101

If you are new to the Los Angeles rental market, or just new to renting, here is a quick guide to get you up to speed on security deposits.

First, you’re accepted. Upon acceptance of your application, the landlord or property management company will request one month’s rent and the security deposit up front before the move-in. Normally, they will expect it at the time you sign the lease.

What exactly is a security deposit? The security deposit is collateral. The landlord is handing over his property to you, entrusting it in your care. You in turn give him a deposit, ensuring him that you will return the property in the condition you received it in. The deposit is the landlord’s way of protecting his property from damages.

How much you can expect to pay. The average requested amount for a security deposit for an unfurnished rental is one month’s rent. Sometimes, they will ask for more, but they CANNOT ask for more than TWO times the amount of rent for unfurnished rentals. For furnished rentals, the security deposit can equal up to THREE times the amount of rent.

Do a walk through. Before moving in to your new place, make sure the property management company, agent, or landlord performs a walk-through inspection with you to note any property damage that currently exists. Snapping some photos of the interior and exterior is a great idea in order to show how the unit looked when you moved in compared to when you move out.

Be careful what you do. Say your new apartment is a little “blah”. Your personal style is very important to you, so you would really like to liven up your new home with a splash of color, hang some pictures, new curtains, and possibly mount your flat screen on the wall in the living room. ASK FIRST! Landlord says, “Okay”? Get it in writing! You need hard proof that the landlord is allowing you to alter his or her property. Sometimes they will ask that you just return the unit to the way it looked when you first moved in.

Move out time. Okay, so it’s been about two years, and you are ready to upgrade to a bigger place. You’ve sent your 30-day notice to the landlord and even followed up with a phone call to make sure he received the letter that you will be vacating the unit in 30 days.

Schedule a Pre-Inspection. Time flies by and it’s now TWO WEEKS before the big move, and you really need to get your security deposit back to use towards that upcoming trip to Costa Rica! Here’s a bright idea: give your landlord a call again and ask him to inspect your unit to see if anything needs to be cleaned or repaired before you move out, in order to receive your full security deposit back. Ask him for an itemized list of repairs. Schedule another inspection appointment with him or her for the day you will have everything cleared out of the unit.

Hand over the keys. Day 30 rolls around and you’ve just finished packing the trucks to move to your bigger, better place. The unit is completely vacant now. Ask your landlord for another itemized list of what he will be deducting, if anything, from your security deposit and have him sign it. Before you leave, take pictures again for your records. It will help your case if any disputes arise.

Common mistakes renters make. Don’t forget to give the landlord your forwarding address. Believe it or not, it’s common to forget this. You also need to remember to turn in your keys on the last day of your tenancy. Clean the apartment before you vacate. You may think the apartment was dirty when you moved in and therefore don’t need to clean it when you leave. Chances are the landlord did have it cleaned and he has a receipt to prove it. The most common complaint renters make at move-in is that the unit was not cleaned. The majority of the time it has been cleaned, just not to your move-in standards. So, before you move, clean up.

21 day wait. From the day you move out, the landlord has 21 days to refund your entire security deposit as long as you didn’t leave the place in shambles, i.e. windows broken, holes in the walls and doors, broken light fixtures, carpet torn or badly stained, or a lingering odor that stinks to the high heavens. You get the idea!

There should be no surprises for you when you receive your check in the mail, if you follow these steps.

If 21 days have passed and you haven’t gotten your security deposit back yet, call up your landlord and find out what the delay is. If he is dodging your calls and not giving you a straight answer, you can file a claim in Small Claims Court against your landlord to recover your money. Here is a link for more information about filing a small claim.

For more information, check out our section on Security Deposits.

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