How To Not Lose Your Security Deposit

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Have you ever had a rental security deposit withheld? Well, you are not alone.  

The standard security deposit is somewhere between one to two months’ rent,sometimes even up to three months (dependent on your location and landlord).Security deposits are a way for the landlord to ensure that the tenant will have the money to cover any potential damages made during the lease term. The money allotted is used to cover the costs of any damage or reinstatement work necessary to the apartment, which is then deducted from the deposit repayment.

In some cases, security deposits are kept by the landlord for unfair reasons or no justifiable reasons at all, which leaves the tenants reeling in a state of confusion. Here are our best tips to up your chances of getting your security deposit back:  

Understand Your Lease Contract Thoroughly 

The lease is available to you for a reason, and the more concise the terms are, the less room there will be for arguments. If you have any questions, ask! Don’t guess and assume. If you want to know what would happen if you need to move out early, find out the answer directly from your landlord. You must know your policies and expectations from each other. What’s the policy on alterations int the rental? Who pays for repairs and maintenance of appliances? How will the security deposit be returned to you? When will the security deposit be returned post move out? You need to know all of the answers to these questions, which should all be governed within the lease contract. Be open with your communication, playing the guessing game doesn’t do anyone any favours.  

Make An Apartment Rental Inspection Checklist 

Moving to a new home can be as exciting as it is overwhelming. It’s really easy to get swept up in the hype of an adrenaline filled milestone and forget to tick the vital tasks off of our mental to-do list. Moving in and moving out is never easy therefore it’s compulsory that we stay attentively on task, otherwise you risk forgetting a lot of important things. This step should not be skipped especially if you are already an absent-minded kind of person. Stay on task.  

Easier said than done right? We aren’t automated robots programmed to fulfill a set list of tasks each time but there is a solution - a very old school and effective on at that. Create an apartment rental inspection checklist that you can check off as you go through each inspection during your initial and final walk-throughs. Go through this checklist together with your landlord so that you are both on the same page.  

Understand Your Landlord-Tenant Laws Clearly

As with any business and industry space, laws vary accordingly by location. It’s no different with landlord-tenant laws. What applies in the United States may not apply in various Asian countries, and what applies in Hong Kong real estate laws could be drastically different from Singapore rental laws. 

People tend to go in blind with the false assumption that landlord-tenant laws are uniform around the globe. Every city is different so make sure you acquire enough knowledge to understand what your rights are as a tenant to avoid being taken advantage of. Knowledge is power, so the key here is to do ample research. Check how rental security deposits laws are structured in your city,as well as any other details than can be applicable to you. If you decide to move out of your rental, always give enough early notice (as specified in the details of your lease contract). Some landlords are more flexible than others and will not hold your security deposit for leaving sooner than the agreed upon date. It depends on your relationship with your landlord as well, but for self-protection purposes, you should aim to be as communicative and transparent as you can to avoid any misunderstandings. 

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Document Everything By Taking Photos and Videos Upon Move In 

Most disputes over security deposits occurs because of a “He said, she said” situation.When landlord and tenant don’t properly document every detail to the tee, it creates a lot of room for uncertainty and arguments. 

If the facts are all laid out, the situation in question  becomes evidence-based, whereby leaving no gap for fact-less accusations from either parties. Whatever your relationship with your landlord is like, you should treat it as a business dynamic governed by law. That is what the lease contract is there for. At the end of the day, we all need to learn to protect ourselves especially when money is involved. 

The first thing you should do after the lease is finalise and ready for move-in is to document as much detail of the rental as you possibly can. Not many people do this, but getting in to the habit of recording photographic and video proof when you move in to your new rental can save your butts should anything go wrong down the line. Some landlords are genuinely honest people who would not keep your security deposit unless absolutely necessary (destructive damages), but unfortunately, not all landlords treat their tenants with just intentions. Some landlords will employ the method of blaming every damage on the tenant (even if they know that the damage was created by a previous tenant), if the opportunity is there to play the blame game in order to keep the extra dollar signs. This is why it’s so important to ensure that you have at the minimum photographic proof of the condition of the rental on move-in date in case you are blamed for damages that you are not responsible for.  

Request to do a walk-through with your landlord on the day that you move in, look at room down to the nooks and crannies and make sure to snap proof of everything,including any existing damages that should be noted down. On the same day, send to your landlord all of your time-stamped digital files as documentation proof of the exact condition of the property at move-in. It’s always better to go the extra step as opposed to regretting that you didn’t do something later down the road. 

Not only will this ensure that there’s no blurry lines for arguments to occur between you and your landlord, the photos and videos will serve to remind you of how to restore the rental to its original condition upon move-out. If you landlord is a person of integrity who is not out to cheat, he or she will definitely appreciate your detail to attention and courteous gestures. It’s a win-win for both of you! 

Do The Same Thing The Day You Move Out 

On the day that you move out, do remember to document the condition you left the place. Take photos and videos of every room in the rental and email them to your landlord the same day. This way, you ensure that no blame can be put on you for whatever happens after you left. 

Get Written Approval For Any Alterations 

Unlike a purchased home, renters don’t have the freedom to customise their home as they see fit. The rental property belongs to the landlord and is not yours to modify. If you borrow an outfit from a friend,you don’t take it to the tailor to alter it in to your perfect size. The property does not belong to you! Unless you get permission from your landlord, you risk losing your entire security deposit and more by installing things that cause permanent alterations. 

If you do wish to modify the apartment, always remember to get a written approval from your landlord stating the exact changes you are to make. It’s one thing to get verbal approval, but without hard evidence, this can easily backfire on the most trusting individuals. This is the only way to avoid potential disputes later on. 

Return The Rental To Its Original State 

Give yourself enough realistic time to put the rental back to its original state -the way that it had looked when you first moved in. If you had made a semi-permanent modifications to the property, remember that it takes time and manpower to do all these things. Don’t leave everything until the last day! 

   •     Repair any damages you caused

   •     Clean out all the built-in appliances such as refrigerator, oven, stove, freezer…etc 

   •     Move out all of your future (unless you have pre-negotiated for the landlord to keep your furnishings) 

   •     Patch up any holes you have drilled in to the walls to hang up decorations and furnishings 

   •     Repaint the walls (if you had painted it a different colour, unless your landlord approves of the new wall colour) 

   •     Do a deep cleanse of the entire rental and leave it in spotless condition 

   •     Clean out the carpets 

The point is to have the place looking like it’s never been lived in before so that your landlord can rent it out again to future tenants. It will cost you significantly less to fix up and clean everything yourself. Your mess is should not be left for your landlord to deal with. If someone borrowed your car and returned it to you in shambles, you would not be pleased also. Be courteous. Be mindful. 

Make Sure The Apartment Is Thoroughly Cleaned 

You can either invest in some time to clean the whole rental yourself or you can hire professional cleaners to do it for you. Your landlord should not withhold any of your security deposit for normal wear and tear, but if the property is so tremendously damaged that it needs repair then that’s a different story. 

Do A Final Apartment Walk-Through With Your Landlord  

After you have cleaned and fixed up all the damages, compile another inspection checklist. Ask your landlord to do a final walk-through of the rental with you if possible. Most people just leave it up to their landlords to do the walk-through alone, but it is better to have face time so that any problems can be hashed out on the spot. When you move out, you want to leave that piece of your life behind you, not be forced to deal with reoccurring issues weeks to months after. 

After you finish the walk-through and everyone is happy, return all sets of keys to your landlord and provide him/her with your new forwarding address and contact information. Keep following up to ensure that you get your security deposit back. If you follow all of these tips, there should be no reason for your security deposit to be detained. If in a stroke of bad luck, your landlord unreasonably keeps your security deposit, be thankful that you have all of the evidence to prove your case in a legal context. 

Say Goodbye On A Good Note 

When your lease ends, your relationship with your landlord shouldn’t just turn sour or end abruptly. People in the same industry have connections that you may need at a later time, and it’s a good to keep the communication channels open. Landlords are regular people too and you should treat them as you would friends and family. 

Keep the relationship positive and strong!

Engel & Völkers

Hong Kong, Real Estate Agency
Shop A, Ground Floor, 95 Caine Road, Mid Levels
- Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Phone
+852 2561 3616

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