I’m Moving Out! Can I Get My Security Deposit Back ASAP?!

Ah, the security deposit… a financial burden when moving in, a blessing when moving out – but wait, it’s not as easy as that. ’

Hold your horses!

Chill for a sec, and let’s look more closely about this security deposit you so hastily want back. There might be some easy reasons that you don’t know you already know as to why your landlord or property management company could not simply give it back (in full amount) even at the end of your lease term.

What is a Security Deposit?

Separate from rent, a security deposit can be considered a type of insurance given to a landlord to make sure a tenant returns a home in the condition they received it. In most states, a security deposit must be held, not spent, by the landlord as it is still technically the tenant’s money. Upon the tenant moving out from a home, any damages to the home can be deducted from the security deposit by the landlord. Additionally, most states allow unpaid rent and bills to be deducted from a security deposit. Many tenants make the mistake of assuming a security deposit is, or can be used as, their last month of rent, which is NOT legally true!

As we’ve pointed out before in this blog: In Michigan — and in most states – there is a limit on the amount that can be charged for a security deposit. Michigan’s limit is one and a half times the amount of monthly rent. So if you’re paying $900/month in rent, at most you can be charged $1350 for a security deposit.

When Would You Pay It and Why?

A security deposit is usually paid before a tenant moves in, around or before the signing of the lease, after the tenant has passed the landlord’s screening process. This assures the landlord will not end up financially vulnerable if a tenant causes damage or stops paying the rent. It simply provides them the cushion to pay for any of these expenses.

Why Am I Not Getting My SD Quick? Or… In FULL?

You could, theoretically, get your security deposit back immediately upon moving out. Usually though, a landlord needs time to inspect the home thoroughly for possible damages and to check all other expenses have been paid. If there are any damages, they will  need time to get bids on repairing them, so they know how much to fairly charge against your security deposit.

In simple terms, if you are not getting your full security deposit back it’s because you left behind one or more of the following when you moved out:

  • Unpaid Utility Bills
  • Unpaid Rent
  • Damages to the property

How Do You Determine What is Damaged?

When moved in, you should have completed a MoveIn Checklist, which listed the condition of everything in the home, and listed any existing damages (no matter how small you think they are). Additionally, it’s always recommended to take pictures, or better yet a video, of the state of the home and the damage you find.

It’s then also wise for you to do your own MoveOut Checklist and take pictures and/or video to support it. Then you and your landlord can compare both of your MoveOut Checklists (the landlord will do theirs separately) to come to an agreement on any damages.

Don’t be surprised if your landlord refuses to meet you at the home to do a MoveOut Checklist together. Many landlords have been physically threatened by tenants during face-to-face disagreements over damages and now avoid putting themselves in these unpleasant situations. You can check a more detailed list of what a landlord may charge against a security deposit at our blog here.

When do I get back my Security deposit?

After all the fuss, you should be able to get back whatever part of your security deposit that your landlord didn’t spend to repair damage to the house. Michigan law allows a landlord 30 days to start the return of your security deposit, so it might take 34 or 35 days when you take bank transit time into account before the funds make it into your account and/or mailbox.

Three Very Important Technicalities

  • If you (for some reason) break your lease and Move Out early, any unpaid rent for the remaining portion of your lease can be considered unpaid rent and may be deducted from your security deposit.  
  • Also, Michigan law says that if you don’t give your landlord your forwarding address within four days of moving out, they don’t have to give you an itemized list of damages! So be sure you get that done, too.
  • Not all of the money above and beyond rent is part of the security deposit – landlords can and usually do add a fair number of non-refundable fees to their lease as well, from application fees to pet fees to cleaning fees and more. Carefully read your lease to understand these.

In summary, your security deposit helps your landlord feel secure in taking you on as a tenant – and it ultimately saves you the hassle of having to pay for minor damages and the last few dollars of your utility bill when you’re already paying for the expenses of moving out. As long as you understand how it all works, it’s easy to see that paying them is a good idea all around.

Hope that helps!