You’ve decided to move out of your home, and you want to get your complete security back or at least the majority of it. That begs the question, “How do I get my security deposit back?”. Clean is clean, right? Ah, and therein lies the rub; one person's clean is not necessarily another's. It's mighty subjective, no? Well, no. So, when you ask, how do I get my security deposit back, it might vary depending on who you ask. For this article, we will review guidelines that we follow as a management company based on our three decades of experience and several hundred times going to court for security deposit disputes.
I am sure it is safe to say that most everyone has been a renter at one time or another in their life. And it’s an even better bet that we have all felt “taken” by said landlord or property management company when it comes to our security deposits. Typically, this happens because the landlord or property management company isn’t knowledgeable when it comes to the guidelines laid out with Fair Housing and the State of California Tenant Landlord Laws.
Your Move Out (and move in) Inspection - Why is this important?
Your move-in inspection serves a purpose, just as your move-out inspection does. Yet, time and again, folks blow off their move-in inspection for one reason or another. And when it comes to the move-out inspection, you may waive it. However, I strongly urge you to make an appointment and keep it. It benefits you and gives you a benchmark to work from. Otherwise, it’s become heresy when you move out.
You see, when a property is made rent-ready, no one bakes a cake or takes a shower. Some days that would be nice; however, the goal of a rehab is to ensure a property is move-in ready. You will nearly always find the stuff that was missed because no one lived in the property day in, day out.
However, you are. Items that need to be addressed ought to be brought up on a move-in inspection, as that is the time to be sure that pre-existing issues are not applied as your responsibility. As added insurance, we video the entirety of the property, meaning every square inch, but it is possible even then to miss stuff.
The Move-Out Inspection
The purpose of the move-out inspection is to show you what you need to do to get back as much of your security deposit as possible. As a management company, we send a list of items that need to be clean to the resident and then follow-up in person. It’s an excellent opportunity for the resident to ask specific questions on what repairs or cleaning should be done. It’s also an opportunity for the landlord/ property management company to get a feel for the condition of the home.
Again, for added insurance for both the resident and the landlord, we document both inspections, and a copy is sent to the resident. Even when we cover all the items, and lo and behold when we go back for the first inspection after the resident moves out, we find items x, y, and z are not done. Usually, it boils down to the fact that moving is hard and things get missed.
We encourage all residents to utilize both inspections as a way to document condition, etc. especially for clarity when moving out.
Most California Courts give the life span of painted walls for two years. So, if you lived in a property for two years or longer, you will not be responsible for “normal wear and tear.” In most cases. Between a year and two years, said paint cost is split 50-50 between the resident and the property owner. If you are in one of the homes we rent for under a year, anything prior painted before the move-in that needs to be repainted when you move out is going to be your financial responsibility.
After two years, the paint cost is 100% of the property owner's responsibility. However, if you have painted a wall a different color while living in the home, and it has to be repainted to bring it back the way it was (making the owner's property whole again) you will be charged the cost of 1/2 of one coat. This comes into play when a resident changes a wall color to gray, or red when it was previously white. When it takes at least two coats to bring a wall back to neutral, there is a cost associated.
Another thing too, is when you have television mounts, or their associated holes, left behind, it requires materials and labor to repair. Spackle, sanding, texturing, etc. In other words, there is a cost to make the owner's property whole again. You can, by all means, fill these holes, but make them flush, sand and add the same of texture that is one the wall now in other parts.
And those pictures you had hung up? No problem removes the finishing nails (you know, those tiny wire nails) and dab some spackle into the holes left with a toothpick. If there are enough of those holes left behind, and they are big enough, there could be labor involved for a contractor to repair them, and this will be charged to you. DO NOT take a putty knife and put a big blog of spackle on the hole as this now has to be sanded and textured.
Here is that subjective thing: Cleaning. However, our standard is called "move-in clean." In other words, we take a property to a level we consider move-in clean. No, it's not "hospital operating room sanitized," but is it cleaned to a realistic, clean standard beyond surface clean.
If you have ever worked in a restaurant, you know what I mean by the above. For example, a restaurant kitchen can look clean on the surface by simply wiping down the stainless-steel surfaces and sweeping. Yet, move some tables out, and you'll see it's not deep clean. It's clean, on the surface, in other words.
That is the same level we would like to see a move out of property look like, and it is more challenging to get there than just surface clean. In other words, the property can't be "mom's coming over, pick up the clothes" clean; it has to be really clean, actually spotless. No one likes moving into a home and seeing the last person’s crumbs on the stove or grim in the bathtub. We recommend you hire a professional cleaning company or ask your landlord/property management company if they have a company they recommend. The best thing is to find out what your property management company charges for cleaning including and flooring and let them do it this way they can’t come back on you for any cleaning.
Wear and Tear
Over the years, I have seen a sort of gravitation towards everyone called pretty much everything wear and tear when it comes to rental properties. Window blown out. Wear and tear; Stove is missing, wear, and tear. Floors are flooded with water, wear, and tear.
No. No. No. And, you guessed it, No.
Anything damaged by the resident, intentionally or not, is a resident responsibility, except in cases of wear, tear, time, and use. I'll elaborate.
The mini blind fell apart from age and sun damage. That is wear and tear. In fact, I have seen these actually melt in direct sunlight!
The mini blind fell apart because Fido ate it, or Junior tore it up, or little Mary reached through to open and close the window daily, that is not wear and tear.
In short, we know the difference.
That a resident painted all the interior walls black, well boy howdy, that ain't wear and tear.
A closet door roller fails, that's wear and tear. A kitchen drawer comes apart, that's usually wear and tear. You know that one drawer everyone has that has all the knick-knacks? That's often the one that falls apart, and it's usually due to cramming it too full. Still, that is usually a wear and tear item.All the lightbulbs removed? That is not wear and tear.
A Handy Guide
Here I am going to take a page from my day to day life performing move-out inspections.
- Leave nothing behind. At all. If it came with you, take it with you. If it's trash, make sure the trash man picks it up.
- Clean. Really clean. I know it's hard. When you see the same surrounding day-to-day, it is super hard to see things with fresh eyes, but we're coming in after move-out with fresh eyes. Maybe have someone looks everything over, I'll bet they see things you don't and guess what, your property inspector absolutely will.
- Return any walls you painted to their original colors.
- Lightly patch any nail holes from pictures with spackle on a toothpick. Fill any TV mount holes with spackle, and sand and texture these areas to blend with the rest of the wall.
- Make sure your yard is mowed and green if you have grass. Flowerbeds need to be free of weeds, front, and back.
- Replace broken blinds which are damaged due to "reach-throughs."
- If you put key locking knobs on any interior doors, put the original style knobs back on the doors.
- Make sure there is no oil or grease on the driveway or the garage floor.
- Remove any cobwebs anywhere you find them. Porch, living room ceiling, anywhere.
- Leave your trash cans empty. Do not set out to the curb for the trash company to pick up because if the work begins on the property before trash day the contractor will have already taken the trash to the dump, and you will receive a charge for this. As we have to make sure the property is looking sharp quickly to entice another resident to rent the property.
We highly recommend that you head the advice given at your move-out inspection by your landlord or property management company. Typically, when you follow these guidelines, you will receive most if not all your security deposit back.