Renters: Protect Your Security Deposit

For landlords, a security deposit can be a great source of protection against renters who might damage their property or skip out early on the lease. However, for renters who maintain their home and fulfill their lease obligations, they can be an unbearable source of frustration, especially when your deposit is held by an unscrupulous landlord.

Far too many renters are victimized by falsified claims against their security deposits, such as those made to pay for damages that were present prior to the tenant’s arrival. Many people cannot afford to lose such a large amount of money, often amounting to one or two full month’s rent. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your security deposit and fight to get it back if a landlord unfairly tries to claim all or part of your hard-earned cash.

Inspect The Rental Unit And Make A Checklist

The first thing you should do, preferably before you even sign your lease, is do an extensive walk-through of your potential rental unit and make note of pre-existing wear and tear. Some states require that the landlord give you a checklist of damages that are present, but Florida is not one of them so you need to take this step into your own hands.

No damage is too minor to include, and make sure you leave no stone unturned. Check the insides of cabinets, turn on all the faucets, and look for any sort of water damage or mold. Write down anything you find and take photographs or video. Save this information and have your landlord sign the document if possible. If the landlord won’t sign or you don’t want him or her involved, you could also bring along a friend or colleague to witness your inspection.

If you have documentation proving that the damage was there when you moved in, it will be extremely difficult for a landlord to try to keep your security deposit for pre-existing damage and claim you caused it. Without documentation, it could become your word against the landlord’s, and you don’t want to face that situation.

Be A Model Tenant

Pay all of your rent on time. Pay all of your utility bills. Follow the rules of your lease. In other words, do not give your landlord any feasible excuses to keep any of your security deposit.

Cover All Bases Upon Move Out

When you move out of the unit, try to leave it even cleaner than when you moved in (besides reasonable wear and tear). Your landlord will usually conduct a pre-move out inspection as well as a final inspection after you move out. You should request to be present for both of these. The landlord is required to give you an itemized list of what he or she intends to deduct from your deposit, which means you might be able to go back and take care of any issues that were reasonably your responsibility.

Before vacating the unit, go back through and make another checklist like you did before moving in. Take pictures again so you will have “before and after” evidence if needed. Your landlord is required to return your deposit within 15 days if he or she does not intend to deduct anything, and must inform you of any intended deductions within 30 days. Remember to provide your landlord with your new address so there is no excuse for being unable to contact you.

Object Against Unfair Deductions

If you feel the landlord has made unfair deductions or has broken laws, you can object in writing and try to negotiate a resolution yourself. The landlord may agree to return more of the deposit or let you fix an issue with the unit yourself. In Florida, renters have 15 days to object in writing to the landlord’s deductions from their deposit.

Small Claims Court

If you’ve exhausted your options for getting back your security deposit and you still disagree with the landlord’s deductions or believe they acted unfairly, you can file a claim in Small Claims Court against your landlord. $5000 is the maximum amount you can sue for in Florida Small Claims Court. You will want to hire an experienced representative like Ray Garcia to help you build your case and defend your interests.

Don’t allow an unscrupulous landlord to take advantage of you. If you believe your landlord has acted illegally or unfairly in the management of your security deposit, please give us a call to discuss your options. Let the Law Office of Ray Garcia fight for your renter’s rights.