In most circumstances, your landlord must refund the full amount of your security deposit to you when you move out. But what if (s)he refuses to return part or all of it?

MoneyManagement.org offers the following suggestions as to how you can go about getting your security deposit back from a recalcitrant landlord.

Initial walk-through

Whenever you move into a rental property, insist that your new landlord accompany you on a walk-through of it. Bring any existing damage to his or her attention and take pictures of it. Keep them in a safe, accessible place so you can easily retrieve them if and when you need proof of your residence’s initial condition.

Final walk-through

After giving your landlord proper notice that you intend to move out, and after cleaning the place and repairing any minor damage you caused, ask your landlord to accompany you on a final walk-through. Make sure to point out the damage that existed at the time you moved in, and remind him or her that you have pictures of it. Take pictures of any current damage so you have proof of your residence’s final condition as well as its initial condition.

Demand letter

Should your landlord refuse to refund part or all of your security deposit within a reasonable time after you move out, send him or her a snail mail demand letter. Include the following in it:

  • Why you believe you deserve a security deposit refund
  • The specific refund amount you want
  • Where and when you expect him or her to send it
  • Any state, county or local laws you are aware of that back up your position
  • Copies of your before-and-after photos

Be sure to keep a copy of your letter for your own records. In addition, you may wish to consider sending the letter certified mail so you will get a return receipt when the postal service delivers it.

Legal action

If your landlord still refuses to return your security deposit, you likely will need to take him or her to court.