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Security Deposit Issues

Tips for Moving Out and for Getting the Security Deposit Back

First decide if you must give your landlord advance notice that you are moving out. If your landlord has given you a notice to vacate, or has clearly broken the lease (such as by refusing to fix a broken furnace) you probably have no duty to give your landlord advance notice. Otherwise, you are probably required to give your landlord advance notice. Note: If you have a long lease, such as a one year lease, it probably states that you will be responsible for the rent for the entire year even if you move out early. You cannot break a lease in the middle of the lease term unless the landlord clearly broke the lease first, or if your landlord agrees to end the lease early.

Next, decide how much notice is required. If you have a month to month written lease, go by what it says. If you have a verbal lease, you are probably required to give your landlord 30 days written notice that you plan to vacate at the end of the term. In other words, if your lease is month to month and started on the 1st day of the month, you can end your lease on the last day of the month by giving your landlord at least 30 days notice.

Next, decide how to give your landlord notice. The best way is usually in writing, delivered by certified mail or in person, but your written lease may have special instructions which you should follow. Keep a copy of your notice for your records.

After you remove your belongings, clean the premises thoroughly. Then, take pictures of the premises and note when you took them.

Invite the landlord to make a final inspection of the premises. Have a witness present. Ask the landlord if the premises are clean and in order. If the landlord points out a problem, such as a dirty oven, you may want to offer to correct it.

Return the keys to the landlord. Remember, you are still responsible for the rent until you remove your belongings and turn in the keys. Never have the utilities turned off unless you notify your landlord that you are doing so. If you don’t notify the landlord and the pipes freeze, you may be held responsible for the damage.

Give your landlord in writing an address where your landlord can send your security deposit. Do this just before or at the time you move. It is a good idea to send the notice of your new address by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you have proof your landlord received the notice. Within 30 days, your landlord must either give you a written list of any damages which you allegedly caused or return your entire deposit, minus the amount claimed for damages or back rent, if any. If your landlord fails to do either, you may sue the landlord for double the difference between the amount of the deposit and any actual damages or rent owed by you.

If you have not given the landlord written notice of your new address, you lose the right to this double recovery, but you still have the right to sue for the deposit itself. The law allows a landlord to keep all or part of a security deposit to cover other money you may owe under the lease, including rent. If you rent, the landlord can keep that money from your deposit without giving you any special written notice. If the security deposit isn’t large enough to cover all the back rent or damage, your landlord can sue you for the balance.


Revised January 2021

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