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So, What Exactly Does a Security Deposit Cover?

When you first move into a rental property, most landlords and property managers will require you to pay a security deposit, but what exactly does that money cover? After all, it’s a very common thing for new tenants to be required to pay the first and last month’s rent when they sign their lease, so why the separate expense? Below is a basic explanation of what the security deposit is all about, and what it covers.

What is a Security Deposit?

Also called a “damage deposit,” a security deposit is basically a sum of money that you pay up-front to your landlord or property manager that they can use to cover any damages or excessive wear-and-tear to the property. Security deposits act as a form of insurance for the property manager, so that if anything is broken or extremely dirty at the end of a lease term, they can use that money to cover any cleaning and repair costs associated with restoring the property back to the condition it was in before the renter moved in.

If you keep the property in good condition (or at least the condition it was in when you moved in), your security deposit will be returned to you when you move out. If there are damages to the property during your stay, the landlord can deduct any costs of repairs from your security deposit at the end of your lease term.

What Exactly Does a Security Deposit Cover?

Here are some of the main things that landlords could legally deduct from your security deposit if they weren’t there when you moved in, which means that the damage is considered to be excessive:

  • Large holes in walls
  • Excessive holes in walls from multiple pictures, posters, etc.
  • Broken fixtures or tiles in bathrooms
  • Holes, tears or burn marks in curtains or carpets
  • Broken windows or window screens
  • Excessive filth in kitchen or bathroom areas (mold, mildew, etc.)
  • Clogged drains due to negligence or misuse
  • Pet damage (stains, smells, etc.)
  • Broken doors, door handles or door locks
  • Broken or damaged smoke detector

What is Considered to Be “Normal” Wear-and-Tear (a.k.a., How Can I Keep My Security Deposit)?

It’s easy to feel a little nervous about losing your security deposit, especially if you’re not sure what might qualify as “excessive damage” in your landlord’s eyes. The good news is that most states and jurisdictions already have security deposit laws in place that define what is considered to be normal wear-and-tear. Here’s a list of things that security deposit laws typically list under the category of normal wear-and-tear:

  • Sun-faded paint or wallpaper
  • Dirty curtains or blinds
  • Wear on carpets or rugs caused by normal use
  • Furniture dents or marks in carpet
  • Doors that have been warped by age, moisture or temperature
  • Plumbing problems caused by normal use
  • Broken appliances (not caused by misuse)
  • Dust
  • Broken light fixtures or bulbs
  • Nail or pin holes in walls (for pictures), as long as they’re not excessive
  • Dead batteries in smoke detectors

The best way to ensure that you’ll get all of your security deposit back is by requesting a walk-through with the landlord or property manager before you move in. During the walk-through, you should take pictures and make notes of any broken items, damages, etc., to the property so that you won’t risk being held liable for things that were done before you moved in. In addition, when your lease term is up and you’re ready to move out, you should do your best to clean the property and make it look as presentable as possible, so that you can maximize your chances of getting the entire security deposit back.