If you live in a rented apartment or house, chances are you paid a security deposit when you moved in. If you leave your place clean and in great condition when you move out, there’s a good chance you’ll get a refund on your security deposit.
Today, we’ll go over some tips for getting your security deposit refund, but first, let’s look at what security deposits actually cover and what they don’t.
What Can a Landlord Deduct from a Security Deposit?
Oregon law says landlords can deduct money from security deposits:
- When tenants breach the rental agreement (not paying rent, for example)
- To cover damages beyond normal wear and tear
Landlords cannot deduct money from your security deposit to cover normal wear and tear. But what is normal wear and tear? There’s no legal definition in Oregon, but you can generally think of normal wear and tear as the ordinary deterioration in the condition that you’d expect from regular, everyday use.
Normal wear and tear might include:
- Worn finish on bathroom faucets
- Dirty grout
- Curtains or carpets fading due to sunlight
- Minor nicks on walls and doors
More excessive damage might look like:
- Broken mirrors or appliances
- Holes in doors or walls
- Rug or carpet stains from pet urine
- Water damage from windows left open in the rain
Find more information on pages 46-47 of this housing resource guide for Multnomah County, Oregon.
5 Tips for Getting Your Security Deposit Refund
As move-out day approaches, how can you give yourself the best chance of getting a full security deposit refund?
1. Reread Your Lease Agreement
Lease agreements should have a section on termination. It might include information about:
- How much notice you need to give
- Where and when to return your keys
- How much cleaning your landlord expects you to do
Complying with all the terms in your lease is a great first step to getting your deposit back.
2. Do a Walk Through
Some landlords give tenants an inspection sheet when they move in. This usually details the property’s condition before you arrived. Your goal will be to leave the property in a similar condition to that description.
Walk through the entire space and identify any damage that has occurred since you moved in. The easiest time to do this is after your furniture is out. If you caused any damage that you can’t easily fix yourself, it’s best to tell your landlord as soon as possible. Also, keep a record of the damage (with photos) for yourself.
Tip: Whenever you move into a new place, it can also be helpful to take your own pictures of the property to document any damage that was already there when you arrived.
3. Take Care of Small Repairs
Don’t worry about repairing or replacing anything that was already broken when you moved in, and only make repairs that are quick and cheap, like:
- Patching small holes in the wall
- Replacing burnt out light bulbs and dead batteries
- Removing minor stains
4. Do a Deep Clean
It’s best to do this after all your stuff is gone. Here’s how to clean an apartment before moving out:
- Start at the top: Dust ceiling fans and other high-up surfaces like cabinet tops and the stove hood.
- Clear out the fridge. You may want to unplug the fridge and defrost the freezer too.
- Deep clean appliances: Baking soda diluted in water is an effective and safe cleaning solution for the oven, stove, sink, refrigerator, freezer, and shower/bathtub. It’s not ideal for delicate surfaces that are easily scratched, though.
- Clean the toilet: Wear gloves to protect your hands when using disinfectants like bleach or hydrogen peroxide.
- Tackle serious stains: You may need more heavy-duty cleaners for these. Products with bleach are great for white bathroom surfaces. You may decide you need a special stovetop or oven cleaner too.
- Wipe down surfaces and the insides of drawers: Try a simple all-purpose cleaning spray with a rag or sponge. Just use water for painted walls.
- Clean mirrors and windows with window cleaner. Wipe blinds with soapy water.
- Clean the floors: Vacuum carpets and spray carpet cleaner on stains. Mop and sweep hard floor surfaces. Use a toothbrush to get between tiles.
- Use your best judgment: Every space is unique, so you may need to clean areas that aren’t on this list.
If you want to be extra thorough, you can even take pictures of the cleaned property.
If you’ve been responsible for maintaining the property’s exterior, you may want to do some cleaning outside too.
5. Take All Your Belongings With You and Return Your Keys on Time
Don’t leave anything behind (especially food or large, heavy items). Return your keys on time, including mailbox, shed, and gate keys.
You can also ask your landlord to complete a move-out inspection with you, so you can talk about any potential issues or questions up front.
You should know: in Oregon, landlords are required to return whatever they owe you from your security deposit within 31 days after you return your keys. If you don’t get your deposit back by then, contact your landlord.