Bring up rental deposits at your next dinner and we promise everyone will have a story. Yes, some landlords try and nickel and dime ever tenant out of their security deposit, and yes, some tenants destroy property, but generally these are the exceptions to the rule, not the norm. Getting a security deposit back is often just a matter of asking for it and keeping good records throughout the tenancy. The key to getting your deposit back is by starting to think about getting it back before the lease is even signed. In this article, we are going to share six tips on how to best protect your security deposit.

1. Read the lease and review the applicable state law.

Before a tenant even signs a lease, they should review their state law on security deposits so that they are aware how security deposits should be handled. The lease a tenant signs should line up with the laws of the state where the property is located. For instance, if the state law requires a landlord to hold the deposit in an interest-bearing account, the lease should state where the security deposit is will held and at what rate interest will be earned. If the lease does not address security deposits, the prospective tenant should request it be added to the lease.

2. Take pictures and notes before moving in.

This is one of the most important things that new renters forget to do. A new tenant will want to have an accurate record of the condition of the property at the time they moved in. At the same time, the tenant should make a very detailed checklist of any and all items that are broken or in disrepair. Check all electrical outlets, locks on the doors, and every appliance and keep notes about any items that needs to be repaired. A copy of the list should be provided to the landlord. This is the best way to create a record of the condition of the rental prior to the tenant taking possession.

3. Maintain the rental property.

Making small repairs during the tenancy is a balancing act. Most likely the landlord will charge more to make small repairs than it would cost to make them as you go, but there is no need to overdo it either. A tenant should only make repairs that are cheap and easy. They should never repair items that were broken when they moved in or pay to improve the landlord’s property for them. A tenant should consider patching holes, painting, cleaning the carpets, and making the kitchen and bathrooms as clean as possible.

4. Pay rent for the last month.

A lot of tenants equate their security deposit with their last rent payment. However, unless the lease explicitly states that the deposit will be applied as the final rent payment the tenant should make sure to make their final payment. Otherwise, the landlord can claim the property was damaged, keep the security deposit, and sue the tenant for the "unpaid" rent.

5. Take pictures before and after moving out.

A tenant should document the condition of the rental property prior to moving their stuff out and then again after they move out completely. A tenant should make sure to remove all items, including trash and then take pictures to document that the property is completely empty. Make sure to get pictures of any damage you may have caused. That way if the landlord tries to overcharge you and take your deposit you have evidence to support the extent of the damage. As a final step upon leaving, a tenant should return the keys to the landlord and let them know that the property is clean and vacant.

6. Immediately request the deposit in writing.

Once a tenant is moved out they should send a letter, via certified mail, or email to their landlord requesting the deposit and indicating the address they want the check sent to. Again, the tenant will need to check their state laws to see if it dictates how, where, and when the request needs to be sent. Also, the tenant should keep a copy of the letter as well.

With these six tips for getting a deposit returned any tenant will be well on their way to getting a full refund of their security deposit. In so many cases tenants just walk away from their security deposit because they assume the landlord is going to try and keep or make it so difficult and such a hassle that it is not worth the fight. When, in fact, most deposits would probably be returned if the tenant made a proper demand for the deposit and followed these simple steps.