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real estate

Don't Lose Your Security Deposit

Make sure you get your money back when you move out of a rental property.

If you're a renter, are you throwing away money? I'm not talking about the argument against renting that claims you're lining someone else's pocket by paying rent rather than building equity by owning (see Should You Buy or Rent Your Home?). I'm talking about your security deposit. Have you forked over hundreds (maybe even thousands) of dollars to secure an apartment only to lose your money at the end of your lease?

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More than a quarter of all renters have lost their security deposit at some point, according to a survey by Rent.com, an Internet listing site for rental properties. There are a variety of reasons why renters don't get their deposits back, from breaking a lease to leaving their apartments damaged. To make sure that you don't lose the money you put down to secure an apartment, follow these tips from Rent.com:

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Read your lease. This sounds obvious enough, but do you actually read all the fine print or just skim through your rental document and sign at the dotted line? Be sure to read ALL of the requirements stipulated by your landlord for receiving your security deposit back at the end of your lease. If the landlord doesn't list guidelines, ask him to do so in writing before signing a lease.

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Take photos of your apartment when you move in and out -- and make sure they are date-stamped -- to document the condition of the property. Make sure you snap pictures of any existing damage so that you won't be blamed for it when you move out.

Get permission before making any changes. Before you paint or make any renovations to your apartment, get written permission from your landlord to do so.

Try to reach a compromise if you break your lease. If you must move out before your lease ends and don't want to forfeit your security deposit, try negotiating with your landlord. Offer to find a replacement tenant or perhaps ask to receive a portion of your deposit back if you only have a couple months left on your lease.

If your landlord doesn't return your deposit and you haven't violated any of the guidelines in your lease, you need to review your rights. Most states have laws that specify when and how landlords must return security deposits. Legal Web site Nolo.com provides a list of security deposit laws for all 50 states and tips on how to get your security deposit back.

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