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Rental Report: Security Deposits, Decoded

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

Even if you have not rented an apartment before, it is likely you’ve heard about security deposits. A security deposit is a sum of money a landlord will request upon leasing an apartment or house to cover any potential damages incurred during the lease. But what does that mean, and what are the obligations of the landlord with regards to the security deposit?

In Virginia, the landlord can collect up to two months’ rent for a security deposit. The landlord should hold that deposit in a separate escrow account for the term of the lease. And if the VRLTA applies, you could be due interest if you leased the property for more than 13 months. Keep in mind, the interest amount is minimal totaling a dollar or two, so you won’t be booking any vacations off your interest earned.

At lease termination, the landlord has 45 days to return the deposit to you. The following is a list of items you should do before moving out to be sure you get all or most of your deposit back.

  • Transfer the utilities back to the landlord as of the last day of the lease, pay the final bills, and provide the landlord with proof the bills are paid.
  • Depending on your lease, have the carpet cleaned, patch any holes in the walls, and thoroughly clean the unit. If you painted and the landlord did not specifically note you are required to repaint, you’ll want to repaint in a neutral color approved by the landlord anyway.
  • Walk through inspections – do these with the landlord upon move in and move out and both of you keep a copy of the signed inspection reports with the lease. This way, there will hopefully not be any surprises with regards to your deposit. If the landlord isn’t available for these walk through inspections, take pictures and provide them to the landlord along with your inspection list.
  • Return all keys, door openers etc. to the landlord.
  • Don’t forget to give the landlord your new address.

What types of things can your landlord deduct from the security deposit? Essentially, anything beyond normal wear and tear.

  • Unpaid utilities
  • Carpet replacement due to excessive damage like holes, stains and damage beyond the normal wear and tear of use.
  • Repairs for any damaged property.
  • Cleaning – If you left items in the unit, or did not clean it before you moved out, the landlord can charge you for removal of items and cleaning.
  • Replacement locks and keys or equipment – if you do not return the keys or any other types of equipment that was provided upon move in (like cable boxes, garage door openers or key fobs) the landlord can charge you for the replacement.
  • Late fees or returned check — If there is a late fee noted in your lease, and you did not include it in your rent upon paying late rent, the landlord can deduct that fee. Same goes for a returned check fee.

It is important to keep good records for yourself. Be sure you understand exactly what you are responsible for when you sign your lease. If there is outdoor maintenance required, be sure to keep up with it. Did you change the air filters regularly? And so on.

If you dispute the charges to your deposit, be sure to send a certified letter to the landlord disputing the items. And if the dispute goes beyond that, you may need to contact an attorney.

Arlington County offers landlord tenant mediation services if it becomes necessary. You can also contact the county Housing Division at 703-228-3765 if you have questions about anything deducted from your deposit.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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