Tips on rental deposits

Before you close the apartment door for the last time, you had better make sure the rooms are clean. Otherwise, it could cost you money. When renting an apartment, tenants are usually required to leave a deposit, often split into a nonrefundable cleaning fee and a refundable security deposit. Whether you get your security deposit back, apartment managers say, could depend on how clean you leave the apartment.

Most managers agree that the bathroom, oven, and refrigerator should be cleaned and the carpet vacuumed by the tenant before leaving. Some add that it would take damage to the apartment by the tenant before part of the security deposit would be withheld.

The most common reason for withholding a security deposit, according to the managers, is a broken lease or the failure of a tenant to give 30-day notice before moving.

The process of getting the deposit money back is a two-way street. To help smooth out the kinks and snags that seem to delay refunds, renters should follow certain steps. Most of these suggestions are included in your rental lease or in the information packet that most apartment managers furnish to new tenants. They include the following:

Give a 30-day written notice before moving.

Ask the manager to walk through the apartment with you after you have cleaned the apartment for the last time.

Upon checking out, submit a written request for the return of your deposit(s) within 14 days or as prescribed by law.

If you don't receive the deposit, or an itemized list of deductions, send a letter to the manager demanding the return of the deposit. Forms for such letters should be available at the apartment owners' association or tenants' association in your area. Most metropolitian areas have one or both organizations.

An apartment manager in Austin, Texas, agrees that a tenant's failure to notify the apartment manager of his intention to move is the most common reason for withholding deposits. In addition, he cites a tenant's failure to clean the bathroom, stove, and refrigerator. Garage and storage areas are also a problem with some tenants, he says.

Try to keep an open line of communication with the manager. One manager says:

``If I can get the tenants to talk to me about their plans for moving and repairs that are needed, we generally are able to work things out in a manner which is agreeable to both parties.

``The best advice I can give to tenants is read the lease or rental agreement before signing it. Ask questions before, instead of after, situations arise. Also, be sure to bring regular maintenance and upkeep problems to the manager's attention and see that they are noted on the lease or rental agreements, with your initials beside that of the manager's.''

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