If you recently moved out of an apartment, but the landlord refuses to return your security deposit, you may need to take legal action. Before going that route, make sure that you are entitled to the money. The security deposit is intended to provide the landlord with funds for making repairs, hauling off trash, and so on.

To get your deposit back, be sure that you leave the place in the same condition as when you moved in. In addition, pay your last month’s rent opposed to having the landlord use the security deposit; provide the landlord with a 30-day written notice of moving out, even for a month-to-month rental; conduct a walkthrough with the landlord; and always take before and after photos with date stamp of the apartment. That way, if a dispute arises, you have solid proof that the apartment was left in proper condition.

You also need to know some of the rules that a landlord must follow specific to the security deposit. By law, your landlord must provide you with an itemized statement that shows how the deposit will be used. This statement must be delivered to you within 30 days of you leaving the premises. The security deposit can only be used for things like damages, unpaid rent, and cleaning. As part of cleaning, you cannot be charged for what is considered “normal wear and tear”.

If you disagree with the deductions, did not receive itemization within 30 days, or the state security deposit laws were broken in some other way, try to work things out with your landlord first. However, if negotiations fail, you need to send your landlord a demand letter with a deadline, requesting that he or she return your security deposit. In some states, a demand letter is required before you can sue in small claims court.

If you do not receive a response to the demand letter or you do not agree with the landlord’s response, you can file a case in small claims court. However, the limit in most states ranges between $3,000 and $10,000. For small claims court, no attorney is needed. Now, if you have a claim that exceeds $10,000 or there are other circumstances, you can always consult with or hire an attorney.

Often, an attorney can recoup the security deposit, plus more. For instance, if the court determines that your landlord acted in bad faith, the court could award you with two and three times the amount of the security deposit. You can often get your attorney fees paid as well. Please note that for both a small claim and a lawsuit, the landlord is entitled to file a countersuit for things like damage to the apartment, lease violation, and so on.

If you have no choice but to move forward with an actual lawsuit, it is imperative that you hire an attorney with years of experience and expertise specific to your type of case. Your attorney will ensure that the proper documentation is gathered and any witnesses subpoenaed. As an expert of the law, you have a good chance of winning your lawsuit, getting your security deposit back, plus more.